Christmas Tree Care, With an Audience

This is the time of year when you hear all the stuff that you are supposed to do to maintain your Christmas tree after you win the nine-rounder to force it into place without poking a hole in the ceiling or electrocuting yourself when you string up the lights.

Erik Pauze does not have to worry about a ceiling.

Mr. Pauze, 45, is the head gardener at Rockefeller Center. There are people to do the lights.

The little pan of water at the bottom of your tree stand that you are worried will run dry overnight? He is keeping an eye on a tub that is 9 or 10 inches deep.

Don’t get hung up on the math here, but the tree he is tending is 74 feet tall, or 10 or 11 times the height of yours. It is wider than your living room by multiples you don’t want to think about. It weighs 10 tons.

“When it’s first up, it drinks 90 gallons a day,” he said. That drains the tub to the halfway mark, he said.

You are thinking about all the times you have tried not to spill your watering can between the kitchen sink and the tree. Mr. Pauze has a hose and a spigot.

“See right next to the N.Y.P.D. over there?” he said. He pointed to two officers standing between the lobby entrance and the NBC Experience store at the corner of West 49th Street. The spigot was next to them. You could not see it until the crowd on the sidewalk stopped trying to bend back far enough to take in the tree close up, and moved on.

“At 6 in the morning, there’s nobody here,” he said.

At 6 in the morning, he has been on the job for an hour. “There’s a lot to do,” he said. “You’ve got the tree. You’ve got the angels. You’ve got to make sure about the poinsettias. You got to make Christmas look good.”

A breeze rustled the branches. A shower of needles rained down.

“In the morning, we come in with a backpack blower” to clear the sidewalk of needles, he said. “We try to keep it on low so NBC doesn’t come out and scream at us.”

“You got to worry about the needles,” he said. “From tree lighting to Jan. 7 is a long time.”

Yes, but surely he has had it easy so far this year.

“I’m going to say no because of the warmer weather,” he said. “Everybody’s walking around saying how good it is. I say, whatever water is up in the tree, I want to stay in the tree. Needle retention is important.”

As if on cue, there was another breeze, and another shower of needles.

He hopes this tree does not have to endure what last year’s tree did: A late-December blizzard. He talked about riggers who check the cables with him during and after a snowstorm. He talked about how, if the snow is not melting, “You have to get up there and start knocking it off.” Heavy rain beating down on the needles is a problem, too.

He has other headaches you don’t have with your indoor tree.

“You can’t cut it on Nov. 9 if you only start taking care of it Nov. 8,” he said. “I hire an arborist to come out and prune it. In August, it got up to 105. We were watering it with 5,000 gallons a week. We did that six times. And before that, you’ve got to worry about late-season snowstorms. And flooding. They had some terrible, terrible flooding this year.”

That was in Pennsylvania, where he spotted it as he was driving on Interstate 80, on the way to look at another tree.

He described the moment as if he had locked in on a stranger across a crowded room. “I knew this was the one,” he said. “I said, ‘Let’s calm myself down.’ I went and knocked on the door and asked if she’d give the tree.” Of course she — that would be Nancy Keller of Mifflinville, Pa. — said yes.

He was asked when the hunt for the 2012 tree would start.

“September of 2010,” he said. “I’ve got a few I’m watching, see if they need feeding or watering.” He said he would narrow the field to two, and decide on one by next fall.

Now, about the electrocution thing.

“Forty-seven thousand lights this year, which is the most since I’ve been here,” he said — and he has worked at Rockefeller Center for 23 years.

This tree was thicker and fuller than last year’s, which needed only about 33,000 lights to look good. Charlie Cassely, Rockefeller Center’s head electrician — “My buddy Charlie,” Mr. Pauze called him — masterminded the miles of wiring and the LEDs.

For all the factoids — the 363 solar panels that help light the LEDs, the 70-kilowatt DC generating station, the scaffolding that took two days to put up — Mr. Pauze said that what matters is the experience: Seeing the tree, maybe for the very first time.

“The cool thing is, they come out of Radio City and walk down 50th,” he said. “Then Dad gets in trouble because Dad has to find a tree like this for their house.”

Mr. Pauze knows the feeling. He has a son, 18, and a daughter, 16.

He is not a dad in trouble. At home, in Bay Shore, N.Y., is a seven-foot Fraser fir.

“Brentwood Fire Department Company 2,” he said. “That’s where I bought my tree from.”

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