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Choosing The Perfect Christmas Tree With Eugene Higgins

Friday, 5 December 2008

Christmas is nearly upon us and so many families will be going out this weekend to choose their Christmas tree. With so many choices to make-real v artificial, Irish v imported, fir v pine, it's easy to become bewildered. Today our gardening expert Eugene Higgins is in studio to tell us how to choose the perfect Christmas tree.

With many people living in small apartments and duplexes we will be looking at suitable real Christmas trees for small spaces. For those who may be worried about the ecological impact of buying a real Christmas tree we will be looking at growing Christmas trees, which can be kept outdoors all year round an brought in for Christmas. In total we will be looking at five different trees, so there will be something to suit every household. Eugene will also be sharing his tips on how to maintain your Christmas tree so that it looks fresh right through the festive season.

Eugene Higgins, Landscaper:
I was born into Horticulture in a plant nursery/garden centre in north Co Dublin started in 1940 by my grandfather, so my excuse is, "that its in my blood".
On leaving school I worked in various Dublin radio stations and spent my spare time working in the family run garden centre, this soon reversed after spending an intervening number of years in Australia.
Over the last 12 years I have been combining Horticulture and media work.besides working on the Afternoon Show since season 1 my media contributions have also included:

. BBC Room For Improvement (Season 1)
. FM 104 Claire McKeon Show
. Lite Fm Dublin Saturday magazine

In 1999 I returned to retailing opening Colour Green Garden Centre in Malahide Dublin, which won "Best Specialist Garden Centre 2002-Ireland".

In 2004 we subsequently moved the business to Tullamore, Co Offaly, where we have a lot more space around us and have concentrated on developing our Colour Green Landscaping Services. Our highlight to date was, being commissioned last year by the Afternoon Show to restore a nursing home's spectacular Japanese garden that had run into serious disrepair (Carrigoran Nursing Home, Co Clare).

We will be featuring the following trees:

. Pot Grown Tree - suitable for apartment or small room and can be kept outdoors for the remainder of the year.

. Lodgepole Pine - Without doubt the best needle holding Xmas tree,also produces the best pine cones and has a unique candle shape,and is the best tree for showing off decorations, growers love this tree as it is more resistant to pests when growing,so is easier to grow,not so popular in Ireland

. Nordmann Fir - This tree has gained considerable popularity in recent years,and is the best selling in the UK,this due to its classic Xmas triangular shape and its glossy deep foliage,and excellent needle retention

. Noble Fir -King of the Xmas trees once again great needle retention,and superb stunning blue green needles,sweet aroma,verry classy,the Marilyn Monroe of Xmas trees, Eugene's favourite,difficult to grow so sometimes more expensive,but worth it. We are the only country in Europe who can grow it commercially (because we have the perfect soil type & climate)

. Frazer Fir - Lighter in density, more upright in its form - has replaced the Norway Spruce because it retains its needles.

Expect to pay from €5 to €10 per foot for a real tree - those featured in studio are premium trees costing €10 per foot.

We will also be looking at other Christmas plants...

. Poinsettias
The poinsettia is indigenous to Central America and tropical Mexico. However the ones we have on set today are Irish grown. The poinsettia's brilliant seasonal display is produced by colored bracts surrounding the real flowers, which appear as an insignificant cluster of yellow berries called "cyathia." The petal-like bracts are modified leaves located at the junction of the flower stalks and main stem. In November and December, these turn vivid shades of red in response to the longer nights.

. Cyclamens
Cyclamen are a genus of plants containing 20 species, which are part of the family of Primulaceae, the Primrose family. In the wild, their distribution is centered on the Mediterranean, being natives of parts of Europe, western Asia and parts of North Africa. In cultivation, there are some species which are definitely hardy, some which are borderline, and a few species which will not tolerate any frost. Cyclamens are a bulb that works in reverse to most bulbs. They are dormant in the summer and then come to life in the winter. Never plant these too deep and water carefully.

Selecting your Tree
Choose a Christmas tree size which suits your home and the particular room you are going to put it into.
Make sure the tree has a straight stem, even and dense branches and a fresh colour.

Caring for your Tree
. After purchasing your tree, cut an inch or two off the bottom of the tree's stem and stand it in a bucket of water. Shake off any loose needles before bringing the tree indoors.
. Once inside, stand the tree in a special Christmas tree stand or in a bucket of wet sand with a water bowl. Add a pint of water to the water bowl daily.
. Avoid letting the tree dry out as the base will re-seal itself and stop taking in water. As well as keeping the tree fragrant, water prevents the needles from drying out and dropping off and the branches from drooping.

Christmas Tree Safety
. Place the free in the coolest part of the room making sure it is properly secured and away from doorways, stairs, heaters, radiators and open fires.
. Make sure that lights on the Christmas tree or lights used for decoration elsewhere are properly wired and comply with the current EU standards of safety.
. Always unplug tree lights and other decorations when leaving the house or going to bed.
After Christmas
After the festive season, your tree can also be recycled for use in your garden as mulch - check your local Council or Corporation website for Christmas tree recycling arrangements.If potted, your tree can also be replanted in your garden.

Advantages of buying a real tree:
. Christmas trees are often raised on marginal land not suited for other agricultural purposes.
. Plantations can help maintain soil stability on marginal land.
. Christmas tree farms provide wildlife habitat for forest animals and birds.
. Planted Christmas trees soak up carbon dioxide produced by cars and trucks and produce large amounts of oxygen.
. Real Christmas trees are recyclable and biodegradable.
. Christmas trees are grown and sold locally resulting in a fresher product with lower "Tree" miles.
. Christmas Trees are protected by sustainable yield management i.e. trees are continually planted to replace those harvested.

Where to buy:
Find out where the nearest Christmas tree outlet is in your area. This can include shopping centres, garden centres and members of the Irish Christmas Tree Grower Association.
You and your family can have a lovely Christmas experience by travelling to a Christmas tree farm where you can select your own tree and have it cut down. Alternatively, you can choose one already on display.

Facts & Figures about the Christmas tree market
Value of market: approx €15m
Demand in Ireland for trees: 350,000 to 400,000
Trees grown per year: 600,000 to 650,000
Number of growers: 50
Tree types (% of EU market): Nordmann fir (70%); Noble fir (20%); Fraser fir (5%); Douglas fir, Scots pine, Norway spruce and Lodgepole pine (5%).

For further information on choosing and prolonging your real Christmas trees go to the Bord Bia website where you will find lots of interesting facts and tips on Christmas trees