‘Tis the season! And If you haven’t gotten your tree yet, well you’re in for a treat. On this year’s tree hunt you’ll be informed on the major differences between the common choices for Christmas tree.

Conifers are the evergreen trees that don’t lose their leaves (shaped as needles) over winter and they use cones as seed pods. The needles serve the same purpose as leaves on a deciduous tree. In fact, under a microscope you will find that they’re super tightly rolled up flat leaves. The shape and waxy coating help them conserve water through the fall and winter, which is why you’ll find these trees can survive even the most punishing winter conditions in the north.

The three common coniferous trees around here are pine, spruce and fir. And at a distance they can be hard to tell apart. 

If you want to be able to confidently recognize and identify these species, here are a few tips you can use to tell the differences. The three outstanding components to look for are the orientation of the cones, the placement of the needles, and the shape of the needles.

Spruce trees. Spruce trees have pointy, thick, round needles that roll between your fingers easily. The ends of the needles are pointy – it’s not a tree that would be fun to hang ornaments on! Remember SSS for spruce – spiny, sharp needles. The cones are oriented downward from branches. Spruce cones are similar looking to pine cones but they are softer, flexible and have thinner scales. They have strong branches with a full shape. 

Fir trees. Fir tree needles grow on the branch individually. Try to roll the needles between your fingers and you’ll find them soft and flat, so they don’t exactly roll. Remember FFF for firs – fir needles are flat and fat. The cones are oriented vertically on top of the branch. Fir cones are usually cylindrical in shape and their scales are softer than that of a pine cone. These cones can come in a variety of colors, from purple, to blue, to green, to white depending on their stage of maturity. The branches are dense and sturdy.

Pine trees. Pine tree needles are rounded and you can roll these thinner needles between your fingers. They grow in clusters of 2, 3 or 5. Red pines have two needles in a cluster, yellow pines have three, and white pines have five. Pine cones have aa woody, rigid feel and are usually shaped in an oval or triangular shape. The branches are spaced further apart and some of the twigs are thinner than those of a fir or spruce.

Now, how should you use this information to pick a great Christmas Tree? Once you are sold on the profile and fullness of the tree, consider to what extent you want to decorate the tree.


If you need help managing pines, firs or spruces on your property, we offer full service to customers in Glen Arm, Baldwin, Fallston, Hydes, Jacksonville, Phoenix, Fork, Monkton and Sparks. Our territory covers western Harford County and eastern Baltimore County. Call our office today to schedule a complementary tree assessment!