Fraser fir christmas tree

Fraser Fir Tree Care: How To Grow A Fraser Fir Tree

The fragrance of a Fraser fir immediately brings to mind the winter holidays. Have you ever thought of growing one as a landscape tree? Read on for tips on Fraser fir tree care.

Fraser Fir Information

Fraser firs (Abies fraseri) are native to the higher elevations of the southern Appalachian Mountains. They are grown commercially for sale as Christmas trees, and they are unrivaled for holiday use because of their fresh fragrance and symmetrical shape. They also have the advantage of retaining the soft texture of their needles after they are cut so that they don’t prick your fingers as you hang ornaments. The tree lasts a long time before the needles begin to desiccate and drop off.

You don’t have to live in the Appalachians to grow Fraser fir trees. Gardeners in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 7 can grow them regardless of their elevation. It’s easy to care for Fraser firs.

How to Grow a Fraser Fir

Choose a location with plenty of bright sunlight most of the day and soil that is rich and moist. Make sure the soil drains well before planting your tree. Clay soil is particularly unsuitable. A Fraser fir tree’s native climate is cool and foggy in summer. Don’t expect it to thrive in the southernmost parts of zone 7 if you have high heat and humidity in summer. The tree prefers summer temperatures around 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (18-21 C.).

Fraser fir trees prefer locations with an annual rainfall of at least 75 inches. If you have less rainfall, plan to irrigate the tree. Never let the soil around the tree dry out. Weeds compete with the tree for moisture and nutrients, so keep the tree’s root zone weed free. A thick layer of mulch will help keep the soil moist and shade out the weeds.

If your soil is rich and loose, you won’t need to fertilize the tree. Otherwise, top-dress with two inches of mulch in spring or early summer. You may need to trim the tree to maintain a pyramid shape, but you can often shape wayward branches by bending them inward. Cut as little as possible so that you don’t ruin the natural shape.

The only thing left to do is decide how to decorate your tree for the holidays.

Here’s how to keep your Christmas tree fresh plus 10 ideas on how to recycle that tree after the holidays from mold-free mulch to

Buying the Christmas Tree

  • If possible, buy a freshly-cut tree from a reputable nursery or cut your own (with the land owner’s permission). Many of the trees for sale were cut weeks before.
    • Freshly-cut Christmas trees are farmed specifically for their purpose and support local agriculture.
  • If you’re buying a tree that can be replanted later, keep in mind that a very small percentage of these trees survive after being indoors in the winter. To give them the best chance of survival:
    • Leave in house a MINIMUM of five days.
    • Give them 2 to 3 days to adjust by letting them sit (in water) in a garage or “in-between” transitional spot before and after they are in the home.
  • The top-selling Christmas trees, as reported by growers across the United States, are the Scotch pine, Douglas fir, white pine, and balsam fir, in that order.
  • If there are lots of needles on the ground around the trees, go elsewhere.
  • To check a tree’s freshness, pull your hand towards you along the branch. Needles should not fall off.
  • If you want to keep your Christmas tree potted and in the house after Christmas, a Norfolk Island pine would be the best choice—they are commonly kept as houseplants. Check with a local florist or nursery in your area.

Caring for Your Christmas Tree

  • When you bring your tree home, saw a couple inches off the bottom of the trunk before setting in water. When trees are cut, pitch oozes out and seals the pores. By sawing off the base, you will open up the pores, and the tree will be able to absorb water.
  • Watering is critical. A freshly-cut tree can consume a gallon of water in 24 hours!
    • Fill the tree stand with water and keep it filled.
    • Never let the water level go below the tree’s base.
  • Indoors, keep the tree away from heating ducts or other heat sources. In fact, the lower the temperature, the better the tree will do.
  • One old Vermonter we knew always packed his tree stand with well-watered soil and planted the tree in the mixture. The soil should be kept wet.
  • Some people add aspirin, Sprite, or sugar to the water; we can’t say whether these actually help. Again, water is the vital element.
  • See more advice for keeping your Christmas tree fresh.

10 Ways to Recyle a Real Christmas Tree

Live biodegradble Christmas trees can be turned into mulch. Most cities have recycling events or even curbside pickup during the weeks after Christmas. All you do is donate the tree and they’ll shred it down to natural mulch to take home and use in your garden. Check with your city government on tree pickup or dropoff.

Besides curbside pick up, there are many DIY ways to recyle a tree.

  1. Use the branches and pine needles as mulch in the garden to provide your garden with insulation and moisture throughout the winter (you can even add on top of snow). Break off the needles, cut the branches into small, 1 or 2-inch pieces, and use as mulch.
  2. Or, you can entire limbs to cover your garden beds, which reduces frost heaves by insulating sensitive plants, such as roses. Use boughs from your tree to shade broad-leaved evergreen shrubs, insulate perennials, or protect against frost and snow.
  3. Your tree can also make an excellent base for your compost pile. For the best results, don’t include the needles, which can slow down the disintegration process. Instead, use the needles for mulch. Then, cut the branches into small pieces so that they turn into compost faster.
  4. Saw the trunk into several pieces, after trimming off the branches. This will make an aromatic Yule fire in your fireplace next Christmas Eve. Bundle up the branches as firewood, too. Note: The wood must have time to dry. Do not throw the live branches into your indoor fireplace as it will cause sparks and is a fire hazard.
  5. Prop up your old tree near your bird feeder as a staging area for small birds, such as chickadees and finches.
  6. Or, create a living bird feeder. String your tree with fresh orange slices, popcorn, cranberries, homemade suet, and other bird-friendly goodies, and put it in a sheltered location. Eventually (within a year) the branches will become brittle and you can break the tree apart by hand or chip it in a chipper.
  7. Who doesn’t love the scent of pine trees? Pluck out the pine needles and either add to a bowl of potpourri for a natural air freshener or use as stuffing for small fragrance pillows. Sew scraps of fabric together and fill them with the needles to make fragrant balsam sachets to freshen drawers and closets.
  8. Another use for your pine needles is to make them into tea. It’s as easy as steeping pine needles in boiling water, and then straining it into cups to drink.
  9. If you’re creative, use the trunk and branches to make cool wood coasters, candleholders or other crafty items.
  10. Some Fish and Game Department use recycled Christmas Trees to make fish-friendly habitats. Some lake bottoms are void of the natural structures that fish like to hide in. You can also sink old trees in their pond, where they make cozy areas for fish and tadpoles to live, sleep, lay eggs, and find food.

Another reader says, “In Louisiana, we use old trees to bait fishing holes with. Just anchor them in a good location and the fish will use it for cover, especially bream and white perch. Go back in the spring and usually the fish will be in it or near it.”

Replanting a Live Tree

Sometimes we’re asked about replanting a live tree. First, you can only replant trees that came with a living root ball (that hasn’t been cut or damaged). Second, the tree can’t be dried out; most Christmas trees will only last a week (at the most) indoors in heated home. But if you kept the tree in a cool area or near a window, it could be worth a try.

With those caveats in mind, you’ll want to plant immediately after Christmas. If you’re in a cold climate and the ground isn’t prime for planting, mulch the tree and set it aside in a cold, sheltered area until the temperature warms up. In the meantime, water the tree every few weeks.

Learn More

Where did the tradition of Christmas trees come from? Read about the origins of popular Christmas traditions here!

How Christmas Trees Work

A white pine (left) and a fraser fir (right) in a stand

­­­Once you get your tree home, you will need to do a few things to keep it fresh. With proper care, the average fresh Christmas tree should last at least five to six weeks. In fact, last year, one of the staff here at HowStuffWorks wanted to see just how long she could keep her tree up. She finally had to take it down as a birthday present to her husband — on February 8! While we don’t recommend this, it’s neat to know that a tree can last that long.

The main thing your tree needs is water. You’ve probably heard of several home remedies that suggest you add something to the water, such as aspirin, 7UP or Sprite or even bleach! You don’t need to do that. Plain water will do just fine.


Once you bring your tree home, if you are not going to set it up immediately, you should put it in a bucket of water in a well-shaded area out of the wind. Most retail locations will put a fresh cut on the tree — trimming about one-fourth to one-half of an inch (0.64 to 1.25 cm) from the base. It can take as little as four to six hours for the base of the tree to sap over. When this happens, a seal is formed and the tree will no longer take water. If this does happen, you can make another fresh cut and place it in water immediately.

A Christmas tree stand

You can trim your tree even after you have put it in a stand. You can cut back some of the bark along the base, exposing the pinkish layer underneath, or you can drill a few shallow holes along the base. This works because it is not the center of the trunk, which absorbs the majority of water, but rather the outermost rings just below the bark.

One of the easiest ways to make sure your tree is getting enough water is to select the best tree stand. The average Christmas tree can use as much as 1 gallon (3.79 liters) of water a day, and you should check the water level daily. The general rule of thumb, according to the National Christmas Tree Association, is that one quart (0.95 liters) of water is required for each inch (2.54 cm) of the trunk’s diameter. So, if you have a tree that is about 6 feet (1.83 meters) tall with a trunk that measures about 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter, you will need to have a stand that holds at least 1 gallon (3.79 liters) of water.

When shopping for stands, be sure to find out how much water the stand holds when a tree is placed in it. Many simply tell you how much water the stand holds without taking into account the displacement that occurs once the tree is in the stand. The stands shown below are examples of really great stands.

In addition to keeping your tree watered, you should not place your tree near anything that could be a possible heat source. Avoid fireplaces, furnaces and air vents.

It’s really amazing that something that starts out the height of a quarter turns into a big, beautiful centerpiece for the holiday season. Please remember that when the season is over, you should remove your tree before it dries out. Several communities recycle trees by chipping them — check with someone in your area about this service.

In the next section, we’ll look at some alternative choices to organic Christmas trees.

It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas, thanks in part to the stately live Christmas trees that have sprung up in many buildings and homes here.

Christmas trees are usually species of the conifer – often the fir, spruce or pine. And their fresh, woody fragrance which humans so enjoy is actually a form of chemical defence, explains tree expert Shawn Lum. It comes from the tree’s volatile compounds – primarily pinene and bornyl acetate, which belong to a group called terpenes.

“These compounds are likely to be a chemical form of defence for the tree against insects and pathogens, but we enjoy the smell or, in some cases, the flavour; for example, in the Greek wines Retsina, where the resin of the Aleppo pine has been added,” said Dr Lum, president of the Nature Society (Singapore).

He said that because the trees come from temperate climes, they will feel most at home, and look their best in Singapore, with the help of air-conditioning.

He also recommends cutting a centimetre off their trunks before placing them in water. This will help the tree “drink” water better by removing clogged water-conducting tissue, just as it is with flowers.

Starting with the right tree is important: Inspect a potential buy by feeling the needles – they should be flexible, not dry and brittle. And make sure the tree smells good. If there is not much fragrance when the needles are flexed, it may mean the tree was cut too long ago. The fresher it is, the longer it will last.

As soon as possible, get the tree into water. Mr Steve Quinn, director of Fresh, Cold Storage, said water should be added to the stand immediately after placing a tree, and that it may use up to 4 litres of water in the first 24 hours.

Maintaining a high moisture level in the tree is the single most important factor in reducing needle loss and keeping the tree fresh, according to the Pennsylvania State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Trees should be watered daily, and can last up to four weeks.

Mr Quinn pointed out that ensuring the tree is drawing water is equally important in making sure it does not become a fire hazard. (Terpenes are flammable, which means that such trees can burn easily.)

The species most commonly seen in Singapore is the fir: the noble fir native to the Pacific North-west of the United States, and the Fraser fir native to the south-eastern US, said Dr Lum, a senior lecturer at Nanyang Technological University’s Asian School of the Environment.

Although the trees produce oxygen when rooted in the earth, having live trees is not totally green, Dr Lum stressed, especially taking into account the energy and fuel used to import them.

But they are more environmentally friendly, because a cycle of live trees would be able to absorb the carbon dioxide their plastic counterparts have contributed to. “Plastic trees have a higher carbon footprint as they are derived from oil and are not recyclable or biodegradable. In addition, incineration releases carbon dioxide from the burning plastic into the air,” said Dr Lum. A live tree can be sustainably harvested, is biodegradable and can be recycled into life-saving mulch for other plants.

A local alternative is the Cook Pine (Araucaria Columnaris), a coniferous tree that is commonly planted in Singapore and can be kept in pots, albeit without that characteristic Christmas tree smell.

Despite the diversity of the conifer species, Dr Lum pointed out that 34 per cent of them worldwide are threatened with extinction, according to a 2013 assessment by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, due to factors like deforestation and climate change. Other cultivated trees for the Christmas trade are in short supply, given that they take years to grow.

Mr Quinn said the supermarket chain went with the Fraser fir this year as “they retain their needles the longest and give off a fresh pine fragrance”. Fraser firs are among the most popular Christmas trees. Their conical shape, needle retention and sturdy boughs make them ideal for keeping ornaments and tree parts off the floor. However, they take on average seven years to reach their marketable height.

Mr Quinn explained that the 2008 US recession meant many Christmas tree growers could not afford to plant as much, while a drought in Oregon in the last five years had shrivelled up supply.

Said Dr Lum: “A combination of changing climates, natural hazards and increased demand have created the perfect storm for the degradation of forests as well as shortage of Christmas trees.”

Making consumption of Christmas trees sustainable is essential to the longevity of the tree tradition, he said. So sustainably planting a few more seeds this year may be the ultimate Christmas gift for the conifer, he added.

Headed to pick out your Christmas tree soon?

Will you go with a noble fir known for its sturdy needles? What about a bright green scotch pine with plenty of room for decorations, or a miniature Christmas tree just for the mantle? Whether you handpick the same type of Christmas tree each year or just go with the first one that stands out, the fact of the matter is that there are many tree types from which to choose.

The Christmas tree becomes the focal point of your holiday decor and family traditions, so it’ll be important to narrow down your decision and find the right one. Shape, color and scent are just a few things to consider.

Christmas Tree Types

To help you find the perfect tree for you, we’ve put together a guide featuring the different types of Christmas trees. It’s classified based upon their most common qualities and characteristics. This season, celebrate the most wonderful time of the year with a Christmas tree that’s at the top of your list!

Browse through the different types of Christmas trees below.

Fir trees are a genus of the evergreen coniferous trees and are also a popular choice for the holiday season. The most popular fir trees used for Christmas include the noble fir, fraser fir and balsam fir. Browse the entire list below.

1. Balsam Fir

The balsam fir is an evergreen tree best known for its conical shape and dense, dark-green leaves that are flat and needle-like. The leaves of the balsam fir also tend to have hints of shining silvery-white and are commonly used for Christmas wreaths and Christmas bouquets. This evergreen tree not only looks good, but smells good too. Giving off that spicy Christmas scent only makes it an even more popular Christmas tree choice. This particular fir varietal is small- to medium-sized and grows to heights of up to 66 feet tall.

2. Fraser Fir

Known for its pleasant scent, the yellow-green branches of the fraser fir feature a conical shape with branches that angle slightly upward. The branches of the fraser fir are also known for being extra sturdy, making this Christmas tree a great option for heavy ornaments, Christmas garland and holiday decor. Its leaves are needle-like and spiral along the trunk of the tree, giving off a fragrant scent. The fraser fir typically grows anywhere up to 50 feet tall.

3. Canaan Fir

Known for its similarities to the fraser fir and balsam fir, the canaan fir is referred to as the hybrid of the two. Canaan fir is a medium-growing evergreen tree that features fantastic needle retention, like the fraser fir. Leaves are flat and needle-like, with a nice green color. The canaan fir is native to the mountains of West Virginia and is a newcomer to the Christmas tree market, making this particular fir varietal few and far between.

4. Douglas Fir

A douglas fir will make a statement in your home. This fir tree displays a full pyramid shape with blue or dark green leaves that have one of the richest scents of all the Christmas trees. Leaves of this evergreen are flat, soft and tend to grow in bunches. Douglas firs grow from medium-sized to extremely large anywhere up to 330 feet tall. Fun fact, the douglas fir makes up nearly half of all Christmas trees grown in the United States.

5. Grand Fir

The name of this evergreen tree really says it all. The grand fir is a large tree native to the Pacific Northwest and Northern California. These giants can grow up to 230 feet tall. The grand fir features bicolored needles with yellow-green hues and a white stripe beneath the needle. This tree produces beautiful, thick foliage and gives off that wonderful spicy Christmas tree scent.

6. Noble Fir

Noble fir is yet another one of the more popular Christmas trees and can grow up to 230 feet tall. The dense branches are evenly spaced along the trunk of this evergreen tree. Growing happily in the Pacific Northwest, the Noble fir displays needle-like leaves that tend to curve upward, making them a sturdy option for all of your Christmas decorations.

7. Concolor Fir

The concolor fir is often referred to as the white fir. It’s known for its flattened, needle-like leaves that are pointed at the tip. When it’s young, the concolor fir features more blue-green colored leaves, but as it gets older the leaves turn into a duller green hue. The concolor fir can grow up to 195 feet tall.

Pine trees are evergreen conifers in the Pinus genus and are the most common coniferous tree around the world. Pine trees love their natural forest the most, but are also common options for Christmas trees.

8. White Pine

The white pine features needles that grown in fascicles or bundles. With bluish-green hues and pointed tips, the branches of this Christmas tree are flexible and give off little to no aroma. This pine tree is not recommended for heavy ornaments or large decorations because the branches are not as strong. Fun fact, the white pine is the largest pine in the United States. Mature trees can live up to 400 years and grow to heights of about 230 feet tall.

9. Scotch Pine

Also referred to as the scots pine, this pine tree is another common Christmas tree option. Dark green foliage and sturdy branches equip the scotch pine: perfect for plenty of Christmas lights and decorations. This pine tree can grow anywhere up to 115 feet tall. The needles range in color from blue-green to a darker green in the winter months and grow in fascicles or bunches of two. The scotch pine is also known for its long term needle retention, meaning less clean up for you when Christmas ends. Fun fact, it’s also the national tree of Scotland.

10. Virginia Pine

The Virginia pine can be easily identified due to its short and twisted needles that grow in pairs. This particular pine tree features short branches with dense foliage that respond well to trimming. The Virginia pine is known as a small to medium-sized tree that can grow anywhere up to about 70 feet tall.

Spruce trees are in the Picea genus which includes over 35 species. These particular types of trees tend to grow in the cooler climates and are common selections for the holiday season.

11. Blue Spruce

The blue spruce, also known as the Colorado blue spruce, is loved for its waxy gray-blue needles that tend to curve upwards. Native to the Rocky Mountains of the United States, this spruce tree features dense foliage that grows in a conical shape anywhere up to 75 feet tall. The blue spruce is said to have “the perfect Christmas tree shape.” Fun fact, the blue spruce is the state tree of Colorado.

12. Norway Spruce

The Norway spruce is a fast-growing evergreen coniferous tree that can be found anywhere up to 180 feet tall. Its leaves are needle-like and feature a dark green hue with pointed tips. Although common in the United States, the Norway spruce is most notably a species of spruce that is native to Europe. Needle retention of the Norway spruce is poor, so it’s important to take proper care of your tree and water it correctly.

13. White Spruce

The white spruce is also commonly referred to as the Canadian spruce, the skunk spruce, the western white spruce and a handful of other names. This particular spruce species is a large tree that grows to heights of up to 130 feet tall. With needle-like leaves that are short and sturdy in a blue-green color, this spruce is a viable option for all of your lights and ornaments.

Cypress trees grow in a tall narrow shape and are most commonly used as shrubbery or privacy trees. If you’re looking for a unique Christmas tree this year, Cypress might be your best option. Browse the different types below.

14. Arizona Cypress

As the name implies, the Arizona cypress is native to the Southwestern United States. It is a medium-sized evergreen tree that can grow up to 60 feet tall. Leaves of this particular cypress are a bluish-gray color on branches that grow in a conical shape.

15. Leyland Cypress

The leyland cypress has feathery leaves that are greenish-gray in color and grow upward, giving the tree a pyramid-like shape. This particular cypress does not give off any aroma, so if you’re looking for a Christmas tree with a delightful scent, the leyland cypress might not be the one for you. On the plus side, the lack of fragrance can be great for those with allergies. This fast-growing tree will grow up to heights of 70 feet tall.

Cedar trees are large coniferous evergreens with many different types. Cedar trees are most commonly landscaping trees, seen lining streets and parks. Although, if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind Christmas tree, a cedar is a viable option.

16. Red Cedar

Also commonly referred to as the Eastern red cedar, pencil cedar and aromatic cedar. Branches of the this particular cedar are dense and form a pyramid-like shape. The leaves jet upwards and are a dark, shiny green color. Although the eastern red cedars are slow-growing, they have been recorded at heights of over 40 feet tall. Fun fact, this cedar tree is most commonly used as a Christmas tree in Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

There’s no better way to get into the Christmas spirit than to decorate your Christmas tree, but that means you’ll have to pick one out first. With so many different options to consider, hopefully our guide to the different types of Christmas trees will help you narrow down your top picks. Once you have your tree at home, don’t forget to take proper care of it. Our detailed guide to Christmas tree care will help you assure that your tree stays healthy all season. It’s time to get to decorating and celebrate! Don’t forget to look for personalized Christmas ornaments to decorate your Christmas tree this year

Pine, Fir or Spruce Tree?

The red pine is one of three types of pines often seen in Iowa.

By Tivon Feeley
Extension Forestry
Iowa State University

The term “conifer,” which describes most of the evergreen trees that are so familiar in the Iowa landscape, includes several species that can be distinguished by a variety of their characteristics, including needles, cones and bark. Is it a pine, a fir or a spruce tree? Following are tips that can be used to identify which is which.

Like deciduous trees, conifers can be identified by their “leaves.” The “leaves” of conifers are of course their needles. On true pine trees, the needles are arranged and attached to the branches in clusters of two (red pine group), three (yellow pine group), or five (white pine group) needles per cluster. Spruce and fir trees have their needles attached individually to the branches.

To tell spruce and fir trees apart, it helps to know that spruce needles are sharply pointed, square and easy to roll between your fingers. Fir needles, on the other hand, are softer, flat and cannot be rolled between your fingers. Spruce needles are attached to small, stalk-like woody projections. When needles are shed, these projections remain. As a result, the branches of spruce trees feel rough. Fir branches lack these projections, and thus have smooth bark. The color and length of needles are not reliable means of identification; these can vary from tree to tree, depending on cultural conditions and the planting site.

All conifers produce cones, which are incorrectly called pinecones since not all conifers that produce cones are true pines. Cones are made up of scales attached to a center stalk. In between the overlapping scales the seeds can be found. The scales on the cones help us identify the various species. Pinecone scales are woody in nature, with a rigid feel. In contrast, spruce cones have thinner scales than pinecones, which gives them a more flexible feel.

The length of cone is not a reliable way of differentiating most types of conifers because the length can vary from tree to tree. For example the sugar pine cones range in size from 8 inches long to more than 26 inches long.

Bark alone is not a fully reliable indicator of the type of conifer you have. The surest way to identify conifers is to examine the needles and cones along with the bark. In general the bark of pine trees is smooth on young trees but develops a flaky, reddish-brown color with age. Scots pines have a particularly orange/red peeling bark. White pines can have smooth bark, even when mature. The bark on spruce trees is generally rough to touch and becomes furrowed and scaly with age. Fir trees have smooth bark that is often grayish when young, but develops a furrowed appearance as it ages.

Needle Drop
All conifers shed needles — sometimes this shedding is slow, but most commonly it occurs all at once in the fall. Because the oldest needles are shed, the “inner” areas of the tree closer to the trunk become less dense than the outer areas.

For example, pine trees tend to keep one to three years of needles active, and in the fall the older needles turn a yellow-brown before they are shed. The pine species showing the most brilliant color change in most years include white, Austrian and Scotch. The color change is also noticeable on arborvitae and sometimes spruce and fir. This color change occurs each year, but some years it is more eye-catching.

As long as the color change is in the inner portion of the tree and in the fall, the homeowner should have no worries. If the needle discoloration is on this year’s growth or at a different time of the year than fall or winter, then you should send some samples into the disease clinic to see what is happening. So instead of worrying, enjoy the brilliant yellow fall color of your conifer trees.

Additional information:

  • Organic Mulches
  • Buying and Caring for a Real Christmas Tree
  • Common Diseases of Blue Spruce
  • Tree Identification

Contacts :
Tivon Feeley. Natural Resource Ecology and Management, (515) 294-6739, [email protected]

Five high-resolution photos suitable for printing are available for use with this column. Suggested captions follow:
White Pine: This conifer has needles in sets of five, which identifies it as one of the white pines. 400K
Red Pine: This conifer has needles in sets of two, which identifies it as one of the red pines. 325K
Yellow Pine: This conifer has needles in sets of three, which identifies it as one of the yellow pines. 200K
Spruce: This conifer has one needle attached to the stem. The needle is square and rolls easily between the fingers. 450K
Fir: This conifer has one needle attached to the stem. The needle is flat and cannot be rolled between the fingers. 350K

grand fir (Abies grandis)

(click on each photo to enlarge image)

  • Needles: About 1″ long; yellow-green on top surface of needles (no white bloom on upper surface)–whitish bands on undersides. Sets of needles flattened or “V” shaped. Needles are two distinct sizes, with alternating long and short needles.
  • Fruit: Upright, cylindrical cones; 3-4″ long; bracts shorter than scales. Fall apart when mature.
  • Twigs: Terminal buds round and clustered, and covered with resin. Young twigs are greenish.
  • Distribution: Extends across the Pacific Northwest from sea level to 5100 ft. (1600 m).

Pacific silver fir (Abies amabilis)

(click on each photo to enlarge image)

  • Needles: Green on top and white underneath; about 1″ long. Top needles point forward like ski jumpers; side needles are nearly perpendicular to the twig.
  • Fruit: Large woody cones (3-6″ long); cylindrical in shape; purple in color. Fall apart when mature.
  • Twigs: Buds clustered at tip of branch are usually round, purple in color, and covered with pitch.
  • Bark: Remains gray throughout its life. Resin blisters when young; scaly when older.
  • Distribution: Grows from 1100-6600 ft (350-2000 m) elevation in the Pacific Northwest on southern and western exposures.

noble fir (Abies procera)

(click on each photo to enlarge image)

  • Needles: White on both top and bottom surfaces; about 1″ long; shaped like a hockey stick. Massed on the upper surface of the twig. A tiny groove runs the length of the upper side.
  • Fruit: Large woody cones (4-6″ long); cylindrical in shape; have distinctive bracts that look like elephant heads. Fall apart when mature.
  • Twigs: Reddish-brown. Buds clustered at the terminal end are usually round, and are over-lapped by curved needles.
  • Distribution: Occurs along the Pacific coast in Washington, Oregon, and northern California. Commonly found at 3200-5600 ft. (1000-1700 m) elevation on the west side of the Cascade Mountains.

California red fir (Abies magnifica)

(click on each photo to enlarge image)

  • Needles: White on both top and bottom surfaces; about 1″ long; shaped like a hockey stick. Massed on the upper surface of the twig. A tiny ridge runs the length of the upper side (compare with groove on noble fir).
  • Fruit: Large woody cones (6-9″ long); cylindrical in shape; bracts are shorter than scales (therefore not visible). Fall apart when mature.
  • Twigs: Reddish-brown. Buds clustered at the terminal end are usually round and not covered by resin.
  • Distribution: Occurs in the Cascade Mountains of southern Oregon, the coastal ranges of northern California, and the high mountain slopes of the Sierra Nevada. Generally found at 5100-9000 ft. (1600-2850 m) elevation.

subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa)

(click on each photo to enlarge image)

  • Needles: White lines both above and below the needle; about 1″ long. Massed on the upper surface of the twig; very neat in appearance.
  • Fruit: Cylindrical woody cones about 2-4″ long; purple. Fall apart when mature.
  • Twigs: Terminal buds are small, round, and clustered; covered with resin.
  • Distribution: Generally occurs at timberline in cold, humid climates in the Olympic, Cascade, and Rocky Mountains.

white fir (Abies concolor)

(click on each photo to enlarge image)

  • Needles: White bloom on upper and lower surfaces; may be in distinct lines, or uniformly distributed over the entire surface. May just occur on tips of needles. Needles 1-2″ long.
  • Fruit: Upright, cylindrical woody cones; 3-5″ long; bracts shorter than scales. Fall apart when mature.
  • Twigs: Terminal buds are round, clustered, and slightly pitchy. Young twigs are greenish.
  • Distribution: Grows at high elevations in the mountains from southern Oregon to southern California and in the Rocky Mountains; normally found at 3200-8200 ft. (1000-2500 m).

For more information about these species, see “Trees to Know in Oregon”.

Fir Tree Abies

Fir Tree: A Field Guide

A fir tree’s classic conical shape—think of all the triangular Christmas trees you drew in kindergarten—also makes a striking silhouette in a landscape in a cool, moist region.

With 50 species (and many more cultivars) to choose among, you can find an Abies that will grow to heights ranging from 30 feet to 250; be sure to do some research before you commit to a fir tree to make sure your garden space will showcase its magnificence at maturity.

Some of our favorite species include the noble fir (Abies procera) with its symmetrically spaced branches and white fir (A. concolor), a drought-resistant tree native to much of the western United States.

Are you wondering what characteristics set a fir apart from pine and spruce trees (its cousins in the Pinaceae family), an easy way to identify Abies is to look closely at the spot where its needles are connected to a stem or branch. The base of each short, flat fir needle is attached individually (as opposed to pine needles, which are attached in clumps or two or more, or spruce needles, which feel rounder to the touch).

For more evergreen trees, see our curated design and plant care guides to Pine Trees, Arborvitae, and Yews.

How Fast Do Christmas Trees Grow?

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In the U.S. each year, there are millions of Christmas trees sold, situated in stands, decorated for the holidays, and enjoyed all season long. It goes without saying: Growing these trees is serious business. One of the top Christmas tree-producing states in the country is North Carolina, a state responsible for an enormous number of Fraser fir trees—Grumpy’s pick for best Christmas tree—each year. With all those trees, we can’t help but wonder: How long does it take a Christmas tree to grow?

Throughout the country and across the world, there are many different types of trees decorated for Christmas, so there’s no single answer to that question. Popular trees used for the holidays include fir, pine, spruce, cypress, and cedar. Of those, Fraser fir (Abies fraseri), Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), and Leyland cypress (Cupressocyparis x leylandii) are favorites of the Southern states. Each species has its own distinct soil and water needs, and some grow more quickly than others. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, “It can take as many as 15 years to grow a tree of typical height (6-7 feet) or as little as 4 years, but the average growing time is 7 years.” Read on for a roundup of Christmas trees that grow in the South, listed by typical growing speeds from fast to slow.

Fast-Growing Christmas Trees

Leyland cypress: The sapless Leyland cypress (Cupressocyparis x leylandii) is a very popular Christmas tree in the American South. In the right environment, Leyland cypress grows quickly, often 3 to 4 feet per year for young trees.

Arizona cypress: Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica) can be found growing in Arizona and west Texas, and it it also amenable to growing in southeastern states including Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, parts of the Florida panhandle, Tennessee, and in North and South Carolina.

Average-Growing Christmas Trees

Fraser fir: The Southern-favorite Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) tree has an average growth period of about 7 years. Fraser fir grows throughout the southern Appalachian region in North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, in North Carolina, the Fraser fir “requires from 7 to 10 years in the field to produce a 6-7 feet tree.”

Canaan fir: Canaan fir (Abies balsamea var. phanerolepies), which is similar to Fraser and balsam firs, is found in Virginia and West Virginia. It grows at a relatively average rate of 2-3 feet per year.

Slow-Growing Christmas Trees

Eastern redcedar: Despite its name, the Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) is a juniper rather than a cedar, and it grows at a slow to medium rate. When planted, it can be expected to grow at a rate of 1-2 feet per year. Eastern redcedar can be found in Texas and Oklahoma as well as areas beyond the South.

Virginia pine: According to the University of Kentucky Department of Horticulture, the growth rate of Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana) is slow, but in the right conditions, the species can reach heights of 40 feet tall and 30 feet wide. It’s found in Virginia and Kentucky, and its growing range reaches South to Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama.

WATCH: Join the Grumpy Gardener as He Shops for the Perfect Christmas Tree

Other Christmas trees grown outside the South but often shipped nationwide include Douglas fir, which grows to full size in 7 to 10 years; Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens); balsam fir (Abies balsamea); white spruce (Picea glauca); and white pine (Pinus strobus).

Will you be visiting a Christmas tree farm this season? What’s your favorite type of Christmas tree to decorate for the holidays?

Every winter, millions of Americans descend on farms and lots across the country with the express purpose of inspecting, and ultimately choosing from, their local selection of coniferous evergreen trees. I’m talking, of course, about Christmas tree shopping—the widely practiced pastime of publicly scrutinizing spruces, pines, and firs in search of the ideal yuletide centerpiece.

Many people are practiced at picking the perfect tree. They’ll judge on things like color, size, shape, needle quality, and bushiness. But behind the annual selection of a coniferous house guest—some 30 million of them a year, in the US—is a ton of science.

To Bert Cregg, identifying exactly what makes a tree perfect is more than a holiday tradition, it’s a major part of his job. He’s a forest researcher at Michigan State University and a renowned expert on Christmas tree production. His work covers two main areas: genetics and culture techniques. “Basically, how can we identify species and seed sources that are going to lead to better Christmas trees, and how can growers manage their farms to produce better trees,” he says.

The research Cregg and his colleagues are conducting today will likely influence what type of Christmas tree you buy from your local lot a decade from now.

Consider Cregg’s cold-hardiness experiments, one of which he’s currently performing inside a chest freezer in the basement of MSU’s Plant and Soil Sciences Building. “We collect a bunch of shoots from the trees we want to study, stick them in the freezer, and program it to decrease 3 degrees Celsius every hour,” Cregg says. Every 60 minutes, he and his team retrieve some shoots—at minus 3, minus 6, minus 9, minus 12—until the freezer reaches minus 45 degrees Celsius, which is as cold as it goes. Then they incubate the samples.

A week later, they inspect the shoots to see which ones have begun to brown—a sign of damage—and at what temperature. The thinking goes that the colder a given species of tree can get before browning, the more resilient it will be in frigid climates. And the more resilient a tree is, the more likely it is to endure multiple winters and still come out looking living-room ready. “So, if we’re thinking of selecting a new species or seed source, we can screen rapidly, rather than waiting for that 1-in-20 winter to determine if a tree is hardy enough for a given location,” Cregg says.

Hardiness is but one of many coniferous characteristics Cregg studies in pursuit of increasingly perfect Christmas trees. There’s also size and color, for starters. Farmers see to both by fertilizing often; regular mulches keep trees verdant and growing at a rate of roughly one foot per year. But historically, growers overdid it. Old guidelines prescribed around 300 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer per acre—way more than the trees needed. Microbes in the soil would convert the excess nitrogen into nitrate, which would work its way past the tree’s roots, deep into the soil, and infiltrate the ground water. Cregg’s lab showed that farmers could reduce their fertilizer requirements by two-thirds if they applied it on a per-tree basis, according to the size, species, and age of their trees. The result was greener trees, less nitrogen runoff, and more money in farmers’ pockets.

There’s also things like needle retention—literally, how many needles stay stuck to the branch, and how many rain down on the presents underneath? Cregg and his colleagues assess this by plucking sprigs from a variety of fir species and displaying them in rows at a horticultural farm on campus. Once a week, a researcher will swing through, give each sprig a gentle tug along its length, and tally how many needles fall off. “We simply go through, give a pull, and we have a rating scale based on how many needles drop,” Cregg says. “We can display a Fraser fir for six weeks, and it won’t drop any needles. Noble fir, same thing. And that’s one reason people in the Northwest like noble firs.”

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