Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tree tips: Trimming for the over-thinker

Artificial or real? Douglas or Spruce? Store-bought or self-cut? White lights or multi-colored?

Every year the choices grow when it comes to filling your home with holiday cheer. For the environmentally savvy, there now are greener choices you can make for tree decorating, such as LED lights and homemade organic cranberry and popcorn garlands that complete the circle of life when you then throw them on your lawn afterward for the eagles and ravens.

But let's start with the tree.

Artificial or real?

Christmas trees are biodegradable, and while they are growing they decrease carbon dioxide in the air and provide soil and water retention so they're probably more eco-friendly. They also smell good.

Pine scents are refreshing and uplifting, engaging our neglected olfactory glands. Magical memories of scampering out of bed in footed pajamas to see presents under the tree and a half-eaten cookie, can certainly lift one's spirits.

However, if the scent of pine sends you searching for an inhaler or reminds you of holiday family feuds, then artificial might be the way to go. Many fake trees contain lead, so make sure to read the labels. Artificial trees are less expensive, easier to store and mean you won't have to vacuum up pine needles. Just don't let your toddler teethe on the branches.

And some people choose to use a wreath for a pine sent and simply decorate a tree outside.

"I think to avoid house fires, people should decorate a tree in their yard then they won't have to cut one down," said Juneau's Tiffany Rutherford.

Making space

Christmas trees usually force us to do a little rearranging to make room. Moving furniture around, vacuuming in corners and changing things up can be very therapeutic for the psyche. We are making room for a tree, which symbolizes generosity and magic.

Douglas Fir, Pine, Spruce ...

If you go for a fresh tree, the Douglas fir is known for its strong fragrance and needle retention, while spruce tips tend to fall off and others have especially sharp needles. Ask questions before you buy or cut.

But once you pick a tree, it's all about fresh water. Cut off an inch from the bottom right before you bring it inside for maximum water absorption. Add a little sugar to the base, mist the tree periodically and try to place it away from heat sources.


Toddlers and cats may be small, but they can take a tree down with one yank. To avoid this, make sure to get the right size base and don't move the tree once it has been secured in the stand. Secure the tree discreetly with fishing line or a festive garland attached to a secure object in the room for even more stability.

An inner glow

Put on some festive holiday music to soften the nightmare of untangling your lights from the year before. Now your blank tree canvas is ready to paint with your personality and your story.

The lights should go on first, then the tree topper, followed by garlands and then finally the ornaments.

LED lights are 80 percent more efficient than regular lights, so they are another eco-friendly choice. One hundred lights per foot of tree is ideal, and pick one type and use it for the whole tree.

Zig-zag the lights in and out of the branches to create depth so it will create a glow from the inside out. Have the lights lit so you can track your progress and avoid dark patches. Place the topper first to avoid the ladder scene where someone topples over onto a decorated tree filled with glass balls while placing an angel.


Ribbon, tinsel, beads, popcorn, berries or any glittery material adds to the magic of a tree. If you make popcorn garlands, make sure they are stale before you thread them with a needle, and the cranberries should be frozen.

Traditional style says to swag the garland on alternating branches or doubling and tripling them up with different colors. Don't be limited to what has been done before; forge a new Christmas tradition for yourself. I have a friend who made wish lists on a string from magazine cut-outs. Another used Mardi Gras beads for sparkle and fake flowers another year.


While decorating your tree, hang heavy ornaments first on inner sturdy branches and then fill in with smaller ones.

Telling family stories about the origins of your handmade ornaments, ones bought on vacation and others with special meanings can be priceless.

Sometimes less is more when it comes to decorating, and the tree comes to life with the spirit of the season.

Juneau resident Kay Redlinger Knapp had such a tree.

"We went up to a cabin one year to ski over Christmas and couldn't imagine lugging a tree along," she said. "But you got to have the pine smell. So we lopped a chunk off a tree and called it our 'Christmas branch,' stuck it in a can and loaded the poor thing with decorations, including lights and a star made of tinfoil. Best tree ever."

• Courtney Nelson can be reached at

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