Oh Christmas Tree, We Know Your Secret

Tucked away, behind those needles, is a hidden secret to keep a special scent.

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The turkey is gobbled up. Now it’s time to sift through countless trees, drag needles through your home and untangle your lights. But before you throw up your hands in despair and run out to buy a fake tree, read on. You might learn a thing or two.

“They always have great trees here,” Mike Porter said. “Something nice and full and even.”

The Christmas tree lot in Mission Hills was buzzing with holiday cheer this weekend as families foraged for a faultless fir.

“This year we decided we would buy a tree that would fit in the house,” Julie Barone said laughing. Something 6 – 8 foot tall would do nicely.    

The Harrigan family has been coming to the same lot for years.

“Since these two boys were little. They would bring their red wagon that Patrick got when he was about one,” Marla Harrigan said.

Now Patrick is all grown up and spends most of his time away from his family -- at Fort Benning in Georgia.

“We’re glad to have this young man home,” his mother said fondly. “We always try to get our tree when Patrick is home.”

They still take the wagon, the one Patrick got when he was little.

“We drag the wagon down here and look at usually 15 trees. This year, the first tree we pulled out, we took. It’s unheard of, but it’s a beauty,” Marla said.

Mission Hills Nursery owner, Fausto Palafox, takes great pride in his work --  work he’s been doing since the age of 12. 

“There was a company here in San Diego called Nurseryland Garden Center,” Palafox said.  “That is where I learned to cut trees.”

The owner wants his customers to enjoy their tree into 2010, so this year he’s doing what he calls “micro loads.”

“I’m bringing in small loads of trees, but with more frequency,” he said.

He also tells his customers to use a good water stand, so the tree holds up nicely.

After that, things really heat up.

“Use hot, hot water to water the tree initially and use some of the tree preservative to put in the water. By using the hot water, it kind of melts away some of the resins that build up and let the capillary action take hold,” Palafox said.

Customers gave root to the next couple of tips.

“We put a little sugar in the water,” Marla Harrigan said.

“Put a little bit of bleach in there. I don’t know the dilution, but supposedly that keeps your tree green a little bit longer,” Barone said.

The expert confirmed they were right.

“Sugar, any of that stuff, that helps preserve it,” Palafox said. “The bleach is so that the fungal activity doesn’t clog up the capillaries. You’re trying to get the water to be sucked up. Bleach helps in that respect.”

Now for the scented secret – that’s hidden in the sap.
“A lot of people want to maintain the freshness in the scent. They love the smell of the Christmas tree and one of the things that they don’t realize is that they can do that throughout the season,” Palafox said.

As he lifted back the needles, he exposed the truck and pointed to some bumps on the tree. 

“What they call blisters,” he said. “All you have to do every few nights is go through and you pop them and they release the sap. That’s how you maintain the freshness and that scent through the season.”

Something Marla will need if her family has their way.

“These guys make me keep it up until after the New Year. They love the tradition,” she said laughing.

Traditions may look a little different this Christmas for many families across America.

“I think the economy has affected everybody, every business. In our particular case, what we noticed last year, is that there was always a Christmas tree, they always purchase a tree, but now they’re a little smaller,” Palafox said.

But bigger doesn’t always mean better when it really comes down to it.

“Merry Christmas to you,” said Marla, before she followed her tree, her son and his little red cart home for the holidays.

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