Christmas Tree Quality and Grading

Christmas tree grading standards were developed by the USDA, the latest revision being in 1989. Although the standards for grading are uniform, every tree is unique, and there are multiple factors beyond the control of the grower that can affect the overall finished look of the tree. A few of these factors include the particular slope that the tree was planted on, the soil and drainage conditions of it, and the amount of moisture it receives, exposure to the sun, etc. As a result, considerable tolerances are included in the grading standards to allow for the variances that occur.

Growers can buy seedlings from Nurseries that have been genetically adapted and proven to be better suited for a particular environment than other strains. This can result in an even greater variance of a characteristic of a tree. Growers develop their own techniques and ways of planting, growing, shaping, cultivating, fertilizing, harvesting,etc. This results in a style that is unique to them. They then develop clientele that appreciates those specific characteristics. One should not confuse individual taste and preference with a grade.

Following are grading standards provided by the USDA.

 Premium. 

“U.S. Premium” consists of trees which meet the following requirements:
(a) Characteristics typical of the species;
(b) Butt trimmed; except for trees graded “on the stump”;
(c) Normal taper;
(d) Fresh;
(e) Clean;
(f) Healthy;
(g) Well shaped;
(h) Not less than heavy density;
(I) Handle length, unless otherwise specified, shall be not less than 6 inches, or more than 1-1/2 inches for each foot of tree height. For trees graded “on the stump”, handle length will not be a requirement of the grade;
(j) Three faces with not more than 1 minor defect. Remaining face may not have more than 1 minor defect;

 No. 1.

“U.S. No. 1” consists of trees which meet the following requirements:
(a) Characteristics typical of the species;
(b) Butt trimmed; except for trees graded “on the stump”;
(c) Normal taper;
(d) Fresh;
(e) Fairly clean;
(f) Healthy;
(g) Well shaped;
(h) Not less than medium density;
(I) Handle length, unless otherwise specified, shall be not less than 6 inches, or more than 1-1/2 inches for each foot of tree length. For trees graded “on the stump”, handle length will not be a requirement of the grade;
(j) Three faces with not more than 2 minor defects. Remaining face may not have more than 1 noticeable defect;

No. 2.

“U.S. No. 2” consists of trees which meet the following requirements:
(a) Characteristics typical of the species;
(b) Butt trimmed; except for trees graded “on the stump”;
(c) Normal taper;
(d) Fresh;
(e) Fairly clean;
(f) Healthy;
(g) Well shaped;
(h) Not less than light density;
(i) Handle length, unless otherwise specified, shall be not less than 6 inches, or more than 1-1/2 inches for each foot of tree length. For trees graded “on the stump”, handle length will not be a requirement of the grade;
(j) Two adjacent faces with not more than 3 minor defects. Remaining faces may not have more than 2 noticeable defects;

Size

(a) Height of trees shall be stated in foot increments and unless otherwise specified, the
following color codes will be used to designate the respective sizes:
COLOR TREE HEIGHT (Feet)
Lime ……. 3 feet or less
Orange ……. Over 3 to 4
Blue ……. Over 4 to 5
Red ……. Over 5 to 6
Yellow ……. Over 6 to 7
Green ……. Over 7 to 8
White ……. Over 8 to 9
Pink ……. Over 9 feet
(b) In determining which designations apply, the measurement for the height is the distance from the base of the handle to the top of the main leader, excluding that portion of the leader that extends more than 4 inches above the apex of the cone of the taper applicable to the tree.
(c) In any size range, a minimum of 1/3 of the trees in a lot shall be in the top half of that size range.

Tolerances

In order to allow for variations incident to proper sizing, grading and handling in each of the foregoing grades the following tolerances, by count, shall apply when a lot of Christmas trees is required to meet a specific grade.
(a) For total defects, 10 percent for Christmas trees in any lot which fail to meet the requirements for the grade: Provided, That included in this amount not more than the following percentages shall be allowed for defects listed:
(1) Off-size. Five percent for trees which fail to meet the height specified.
(2) Off-length handle. Ten percent for trees which fail to meet the requirement for handle length, but which meet all other requirements for the specified grade.
(3) Defects. Ten percent for trees which fail to meet the remaining requirements of the grade.
Definitions

“Fresh” means the needles are green, pliable, and firmly attached; with not more than slight shedding.
“Clean” means the tree is reasonably free from foreign material.
“Healthy” means the needles have a fresh, natural appearance characteristic of the species.
“Well shaped” means that the tree is not flat on one side and the branches of the tree, whether sheared or unsheared, are of sufficient number and length to form a conical outline tapering from the lowest whorl of branches to the top.
“Butt trimmed” means that all barren branches shall have been removed, and the trunk has been smoothly cut at approximately right angles to the trunk.
“Density” means the amount of foliage on the tree. Factors contributing to degree of density are:
The number and size of branches within the whorl, distance between the whorls, number and arrangements of the branchlets on each branch, the extent of internodal branching, needle arrangement, and needle length. Species differ in their habit of growth and some species do not have internodal branches. Density is judged on the basis of species characteristics.
(a) “Heavy density” means the whorls or branches are relatively close together, the spaces
between are filled with needles and twigs so that the following species have said percentage of foliage so the main stem is not visible and the needle content and length are adequate to cover the branches:
NAME PERCENTAGE OF MAIN
STEM COVERED
Red Cedar ……. 90 to 100%
Balsam Fir ……. 80 to 100%
Douglas Fir ……. 90 to 100%
Fraser Fir ……. 70 to 100%
Red Fir ……. 60 to 100%
White Fir ……. 70 to 100%
Grand Fir ……. 80 to 100%
Noble Fir ……. 60 to 100%
Red Pine ……… 70 to 100%
Scotch Pine ……. 90 to 100%
Virginia Pine ……. 90 to 100%5
White Pine ……. 90 to 100%
Spruce (all) ……. 80 to 100%
(b) “Medium density” means the whorls or branches are reasonably close together, the spaces between are filled with twigs and needles so that the following species have said percentage of foliage so the main stem is not visible and the needle content and length are adequate to cover the branches:
NAME PERCENTAGE OF MAIN
STEM COVERED
Red Cedar ……. 70 to 90%
Balsam Fir ……. 60 to 80%
Douglas Fir ……. 70 to 90%
Fraser Fir ……. 50 to 70%
Red Fir ……. 50 to 60%
White Fir …… 50 to 70%
Grand Fir ……. 60 to 80%
Noble Fir …… 50 to 60%
Red Pine ……. 60 to 70%
Scotch Pine ……. 70 to 90%
Virginia Pine ……. 70 to 90%
White Pine ……. 70 to 90%
Spruce (all) ……. 60 to 80%
(c) “Light density” means the whorls or branches are reasonably spaced, the spaces between are only partially filled so that the following species have said percentage of foliage so the main stem is not visible and the needle content and length are adequate to cover the branches:
NAME PERCENTAGE OF MAIN
STEM COVERED
Red Cedar ……. 50 to 70%
Balsam Fir ……. 40 to 60%
Douglas Fir ……. 50 to 70%
Fraser Fir ……. 40 to 50%
Red Fir ……. 40 to 50%
White Fir ……. 40 to 50%
Grand Fir ……. 40 to 60%
Noble Fir ……. 40 to 50%
Red Pine ……. 40 to 60%
Scotch Pine ……. 50 to 70%
Virginia Pine ……. 50 to 70%
White Pine ……. 50 to 70%6
Spruce (all) ……. 40 to 60%
“Normal taper” means the relationship of the width of the tree at its lowest branches to the height of the tree, less the handle, judged from its best side. All trees shall form a cone, the base of which is from 40 to 100 percent of its height.
“Face” means the visible area of a tree as viewed from a distance of 8 to 10 feet from the tree. A tree shall be considered as having four faces, each consisting of one-quarter of the surface area of the tree.
“Fairly clean” means that the tree is moderately free from foreign material.
“Handle” means that the portion of the trunk between the butt or base of the tree and the lowest complete whorl of foliated branches.
“Height” means the distance from the base of the handle to the top of the main leader, excluding that portion of the leader that extends more than 4 inches above the apex of the cone of the taper applicable to the tree.
“Minor defects” are slight imperfections in the development of the tree or defects resulting from handling, which materially affect the appearance of the tree. While many minor defects may be visible from more than 1 face, a given defect shall be scored only once.
“Noticeable defects” are imperfections in the development of the tree or defects resulting from handling, which seriously affect the appearance of the tree. While many noticeable defects may be visible from more than 1 face a given defect shall be scored only once.

 

Classification of defects.
Factor Minor defects Noticeable defects
1. Density. Slight uneven density. Moderately uneven density.
2. Curvature of main stem. Slight, visible crook in the main stem. (4
inches or less from vertical).
Main stem visibly curved more than 4
but less than 6 inches from vertical.
3. Insect or disease damage. Slight insect or disease damage. Moderate insect or disease damage.
4. Broken branches. 1 broken whorl branch near the main
stem.
Broken leader or more than 1 broken
whorl branch adjacent main stem.
5. Physical damage. Slight physical damage. Moderate physical damage.
6. Foreign material and/or vines. Slight amount of foreign material or
vines.
Moderate amount of foreign material or
vines.
7. Multiple leader stems. Multiple leaders. Crows nest.
8. Extra long branches. Branch over 10 inches longer than other
branches on corresponding whorl.
N/A.
9. Abnormal curling of needles. Slightly abnormal curling of needles. Moderately abnormal curling of
needles.
10. Weak lower branches. Free from. Weak lower branches affecting up to
3/4 of branches on bottom whorl.
11. Handle not proportionate to
height.
Free from. Handle not proportionate to height of
tree.
12. Incomplete whorl of branches. Less than 1/4 of branches are missing in
a given whorl.
1/4 but less than 1/2 of branches are
missing in a given whorl.
13. Holes or gaps in tree. Free from. Hole in the tree or space considerably
out of proportion with the uniform
branch characteristics of the balance of
the tree.
14. Gooseneck. Free from. Free from.
15. Loss of needles. Slight loss of needles. Moderate loss of needles.