Here are the most popular trees sold for Christmas, according the Maryland Christmas Tree Association:
Dark, blue-green in color. Lasts longer and holds heavier ornaments. Keeps needles well. Needles are short, 1/2 to one inch long, soft to the touch, dark green on top and silvery white on the bottom. Smells like pine (as you’ll see below, not all smell like pine). They grow tall, narrower at the bottom with more pockets/spaces for ornaments. Fraser fir was named for Scottish botanist John Fraser who explored the south Appalachians in the late 1700s.
Pines shed their needles more than firs, but pine trees have softer needles that can grow as long as 16 inches. Fir needles are always under two inches and are soft and flat. Spruce needles are sharply pointed. And they drop their older, inner needles in the fall, so make sure you give it a good shaking before taking it inside.
Light to medium green in color. Lasts longer and also holds heavier ornaments. Keeps needles well with slightly longer (1-1.5 inches) and softer needles. It gives a pine scent and is fuller than a Fraser Fir and wider at the bottom. It’s not a true fir though and has it’s own unique classification because its cones hang downward. This is among the most popular Christmas trees.
Bluish-green in color. Needles are long (2-3 inches) and tree is bushier. Needle retention is “good,” according to the MTCA. It has a citrus or orange scent. They tend to have a medium to wide bottom and are more full throughout. This is one of the longest-needled firs and is often mistaken for a pine. They’re very popular in California.
Christmas trees are actually three general types of conifers: Fir, Spruce and Pine. It’s a pine if the needles grow in clusters of two to five. If the tree has individual needles, it’s a spruce or fir. In that case, roll the needle between your fingers. If it’s flat, it’s a fir. If the needle has four sides and rolls easily, it’s a spruce. (courtesy FineGardening.com)
Bright green to dark green with bluish tones. Branches are stiff and good for heavy ornaments. If it gets dry, it won’t drop it needles, which grow from one to three inches long. The tree holds its needles for about four weeks. The Scotch Pine is the most planted Christmas tree in North America, although it’s not native to the region. It was imported from Europe. The pine smell is “fair” but lasts through the season.
Bluish green to silver green. It has long (2.5 – 5 inches), soft needles that are good for families with small children. It has very little aroma. This is mainly grown as a timber tree because it is the largest pine in the U.S., but is popular in the mid-Atlantic states for a Christmas tree. It retains its needles through the holiday season. The branches are not as strong as other trees, and it’s not a good tree for heavy ornaments. The tree is sought by those who have scent allergies. It’s the state tree of Michigan and Maine.
Dark green to powdery blue color. This tree is most familiar as a ornamental yard tree, and is often sold “living” with an entire root ball so it can be planted after the holidays. It’s the official White House Christmas tree, planted in 1978 to eliminate the need to buy a cut tree. The needles are short (1 to 3 inches) and the tree grows in a cone shape when young. It’s among the best trees for needle retention. Colorado and Utah both call it their state tree.
Information & pictures are courtesy of Maryland Christmas Tree Association. Here’s their list of choose & cut farms. Here’s the Virginia tree farms.