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Branching out with new holiday traditions

Agri Supply tree nursary manager Shawn Ulmer finds roots with a live Christmas tree.
Image Credit: InfoTel Multimedia
December 14, 2012 - 6:17 PM

Whether you choose to hunt for a Christmas tree in B.C.'s backyard or you purchase one from a local garden centre, holiday traditions continue evolving this year.

The province's free Christmas tree program offers an authentic and educational holiday activity for the family, says a revenue officer at the Okanagan Shuswap Forest District branch of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

"It's been available as long as I can remember," Mike Watts says, adding he's never seen the province make a huge effort to advertise it. 

"It gets families who aren't normally in the woods out in the bush."

Watts says the adventure of finding a Christmas tree out in the forest, rather than in a grocery store parking lot, immerses families in a more natural experience. 

"There's so much wildlife to be seen," Watts says. "It's an opportunity to see old growth trees and the working forest." 

Watts says a lot of youth aren't exposed to real forests, and that a holiday excursion can offer a valuable educational experience. 

The Free Christmas Tree program is open to anyone 19 years or older residing in B.C., and allows them to cut a tree free of charge from Crown lands after obtaining a Christmas Tree Permit. And no, you don't have to apply for the permit at the North Pole; you can do it right here in Vernon, at the Okanagan Shuswap District office on 14th Avenue. You can even do it online.

With a permit in hand, Christmas tree hunters can scour logging roads, hydro rights-of-way and open range lands for the perfect holiday tree. The Ministry recommends Douglas-fir, but says lodgepole pine, spruce, and balsam also make nice Christmas trees. 

"We target areas where young trees would be mowed down anyway," Watts says.  

But if you find yourself in an unnaturally perfect grove of trees, it could be too good to be true. 

"There are areas on transmission lines where there is more of a commercial venture," Watts explains. "Some people have partnered with BC Hydro to plant and then sell the trees there." He says there are at least half a dozen of these ventures in the area, but that they are usually set up in remote, off-the-beaten-track places. 

Each permit gives permission to chop down up to three trees with the idea that some family members might not be able to get their own tree. Don't get greedy and try to sell off your trees though, or you'll be prosecuted under the Criminal Code of Canada (and placed on Santa's naughty list). 

Watts says the ministry doesn't track how many people make use of the program, but maintains, "It's pretty valuable to a lot of people."

Meanwhile, for those who want the convenience of a store-bought tree, live Christmas trees are an alternative option.

"People have done it for years," said Shawn Ulmer, nursery manager of Agri Supply in Kamloops.

Rather than wasting a tree by chopping it down and letting it die over the holiday season, potted live trees can be transferred inside and outside as well as planted into the ground.

They range from two to three times more expensive than the cultured trees available, but they last much longer.

"Obviously a live tree is going to be more environmentally sound, but they're not for everyone," Ulmer said.

She said only about 10 to 15 live Christmas trees sell on average per season compared to the hundreds of cut trees.

The potted spruce trees look a little bit more Charlie Brown than their chopped friends, but Ulmer thinks part of the reason is because they are difficult to manage. She said they are much heavier than your standard, chopped down, tree because of the additional root system, soil and pot.

She added that people need to plan ahead as live trees need to be watered and transitioned in and outdoors.

"Not everyone is able to do this," she said.

Howard Brown, Lyons Landscaping employee in Kamloops, said those interested in a live Christmas tree must remember that they need to be transitioned when moving from inside to outside, and vice versa.

"Lots of people do it," he said, noting that it's more common on the coast.

"Right now it's sitting at the perfect temperature," he said.

He said there are ways to prolong the longevity of your tree.

"Probably about two to three weeks, then it should go back outside again, it'll tend to dry up," he said.

Whichever Christmas tree you choose, everyone knows it's what's under the tree that really counts.

— Jessica Wallace and Charlotte Helston
(250)319-7494/ (250)-309-5230

News from © iNFOnews, 2012

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