Consumer surveys indicate that the shape of a tree is the most important factor affecting Christmas tree selection, followed by needle retention, species, and price. Traditionally, Americans have preferred dense trees, whereas Europeans have preferred more natural, or "open" trees.
Open trees have more space to hang ornaments, holding up to two-thirds more decorations than heavily sheared trees, and tend to weigh less than dense trees, providing advantages for growers and consumers alike.
Researchers and Christmas tree growers are working to shape Fraser firs that satisfy public preferences. M. Elizabeth Rutledge, a graduate student in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources North Carolina State University, is the primary author of a recent study of shearing techniques on Fraser fir. Rutledge and her collaborators evaluated the use on Fraser fir of the Top-Stop Nipper (TSN) a four-bladed, hand-held tool used to reduce growth in Christmas trees. They found that the TSN, when combined with traditional knife shearing or growth regulator treatments, "might offer a method to produce dense trees with minimal shearing or to leave longer leaders to produce a more open "European-style" tree with a layered, natural appearance.
According to the study, published in the April 2008 issue of HortTechnology, use of the Top-Stop Nipper shows promise for tree growers, but "there is so much variation among trees that the effect of the TSN on long-term appearance, quality, and marketability of Fraser firs is yet unknown." One thing is certain: Americans can look forward to new and improved holiday decorating as researchers and growers listen to consumer preferences and create ways to produce picture-perfect Christmas trees.
Michael W. Neff | EurekAlert!
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