The Hippo


May 29, 2020








Local tree farms
• Crow Valley Farm (1038 Hopkinton Road, Hopkinton, 224-7520,
• Donaghey Christmas Tree Farm (359 Third Range Road, Pembroke, 485-8070,
• Forster’s Christmas Tree Farm (349 Mt. Hunger Road, Henniker, 428-8733,
• J & F Farms (124 Chester Road, Derry, 437-0535,
• McQuesten Farm (330 Charles Bancroft Hwy., Litchfield, 424-9268)
• Miracle Acres Farm (523 Mason Road, Milford, 765-2893,
• Muehlke Family Christmas Tree Farm (320 Belknap Mountain Road, Gilford, 524-9507,
• Noel’s Tree Farm (21 Charles Bancroft Hwy., Litchfield, 759-2264,
• Ridge’s End (65A Ridge Road, Deerfield, 463-5540,
• Sidmore Family Christmas Tree Farm (198 North Road, Deerfield, 463-7472,
• Windcrest Farm (274 Poor Farm Road, Weare, 529-2653,

Picking out the perfect tree
How to navigate the prickly, soft, pre-cut and farm-grown


 For some, Thanksgiving weekend doesn’t mean shopping deals — it means getting the whole family in the car to go and pick out the Christmas tree (shout out to all the Clark Griswolds out there). Full disclaimer, I spent many a weekend in November and December handing out cookies and hot cocoa on my grandfather’s Christmas tree farm, so I have a personal attachment to the tradition. 

Picking out a tree can be overwhelming, whether you’re at a lot of pre-cut trees or a forest of pines. With so many options to choose from, how do you know where to start? Lane Bockius of Crow Valley Farm in Hopkinton and Manson Donaghey of Donaghey Christmas Tree Farm in Pembroke share tips on how to pick the perfect tree —though when it comes down to it, it’s all about personal preference.
“I could tell somebody what I think is a very nice Christmas tree,” Donaghey said. “People have their own personal taste. … People pick out the tree that suits them.”
Meet Douglas, Fraser and Balsam
Not all trees are created equal. The most common Christmas tree varieties have their own traits that might make it easier to decide which you want to go home with. Most tree farms grow the most popular varieties: blue spruce, white spruce, fraser fir and balsam fir. 
“Each tree has different qualities and some people prefer one tree over the other,” Donaghey said.
The fir family includes fraser, balsam and douglas firs, and each have soft needles. Fraser firs are known to be soft and full, and Donaghey said that fraser fir is the most popular tree on his farm. The douglas fir is known its needle retention, while the balsam fir, which is native to northern New Hampshire, Donaghey said, is known for its fragrant pine scent. That makes it popular, but its needles can be slippery, so ornaments should be placed deeper into the tree (not on the edge of the branch where they could slip off).
“I always suggest that families with young children choose a balsam fir since the needles are soft and won't prick a curious hand (plus they smell so good),” Bockius wrote in an email.
Blue Spruce and White Spruce trees both have strong needles (Bockius said her husband Greg Bockius recommends the spruces because the strength of the needles hold ornaments better). The Blue Spruce is typically prickly with sharper needles, but it also comes in hues from dark green to blue. The White Spruce has a shorter needle and is typically not as fragrant as other trees.
These are some of the most common, but there are other varieties, too. Donaghey also plants Canaan firs (“It’s not like the fraser fir,” he said) as well as frasalms (a cultivation of fraser and balsam firs), which were developed at the Weir Tree Farm in Colebrook.
“They’re a rather popular tree with the growers,” Donaghey said. “We like them and they’re very closely related to the fraser fir and the Canaan fir.”
Size it up
The perfect tree isn’t so perfect unless it fits well in your home, which means taking some measurements first. Know how high your ceiling is, how wide the space is, where your tree will go and how wide your door is to get the tree in your house.
Don’t forget factors like how much space there should be between the top of the tree and the ceiling (for your tree topper, star or angel). There will need to be extra space at the bottom of the tree to fit into your tree stand (so if you’re getting it cut, the limbs at the bottom will need to be removed). It’s better to cut the tree lower on the trunk and then cut it back to make it shorter if needed. 
The tree might look perfectly full in the lot or next to other trees in the field, but it might look too full in the house, so get an idea of how much space you want it to occupy in your home. Have a family member stand next to the tree to get an idea of what it will look like once you get it inside.
Pre-cut vs. on the farm
Whether you visit a tree lot or a farm this season, you’ll get a festive experience. Lots with pre-cut trees are often run by groups like the Boy Scouts and have music and visits from Santa, while visiting a farm might feel like a classic New England Christmas. Both often have lights, cocoa and cookies (Donaghey said his family all pitches in to make between 2,500 and 3,000 homemade cookies each season). You can pick up wreaths and decorations as well.
Farms will supply hand saws to cut down a tree. Some require that staff cut it down (for safety and because it takes less time), while others give you the choice.
“Here our customers come themselves, they bring their families [and] we supply them with a saw and a sled,” Donaghey said. “It’s amazing how many people just like to put the tree on the sled and bring the tree to the sales area.”
If you’re a perfectionist, you might prefer a pre-cut tree, since they are typically uniform. If you’re looking for something unique, you might have more choices at the tree farm. 
“There’s an old saying, and this is not my saying: ‘We do not provide a Christmas tree, only we provide an experience,’” Donaghey said. 
As seen in the November 27, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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