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Several factors important when selecting live Christmas trees

Posted: November 27, 2011 - 1:08am

The holiday season is upon us. I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving.

One of the busier times of the year is Black Friday. Many shoppers head to the stores to see what’s on sale.

There is another item on sale this time of year: the Christmas tree. Some will put up an artificial tree, but numerous families will buy fresh trees.

There are several key factors to keep in mind when selecting a live tree. The first is to get a tree that will fit the space in the home. Measure the height of the ceiling in the room where the tree will be displayed and select a tree at least a foot shorter than the ceiling height.

Also measure the diameter of the tree stand that the tree will be placed in. It is not wise to get a tree with a trunk diameter larger than the stand. The tree might end up shorter than originally planned, or a trip to the store to purchase a new stand will be required.

Another factor that will make putting the tree in the stand easier is to buy the tree with the straightest trunk possible. If the entire length of the trunk is not straight, make sure the last 6 to 8 inches is straight to allow proper placement in the tree stand.

One of the more important things to look at when buying a tree is freshness. Trees that are bought and cut on a local farm are fresh. The buyer is there when the tree is cut. However, if buying a tree that was shipped in from somewhere else, it is best to check the tree.

There are a couple of ways to do this. First, run the branch through the palm of your hand. If many needles fall off, the tree is not fresh. Take the needles and bend a few of them to see if they bend or snap. Needles that snap are dry. Another way is to shake the tree to be sure the needles are firmly attached.

Once the tree has been purchased, the next step is to prepare it to go in the home. The first step is to inspect it for insects. This can be done by bouncing the tree on pavement to dislodge insects. If any are found, spray the tree with an indoor aerosol containing pyrethrins before bringing the tree indoors.

The next step is to get the tree to uptake water. To do this, cut an inch off the base of the trunk and place it in a stand that holds at least a gallon of water. I like to place the tree in a container that holds 3 to 5 gallons. The tree will take up to 3 gallons of water the first day. Then, move the tree indoors and place it in the stand, filling it with water as soon as possible.

Where the tree is placed in the home is important. Do not place live trees near a fireplace, heater vent or other heat sources. This will increase the amount of water the tree needs and it will increase the amount of water that is lost in the stand from evaporation. Make sure to keep water in the stand and never let the water level fall below the base of the tree. Without water, the base of the tree will seal over and prevent the tree from taking up additional water. The tree would then have to be taken down and a fresh cut made to allow for water uptake. A dehydrated live tree will begin to dry out and become a fire hazard.

Research at the University of Georgia and other universities have shown that nothing needs to be added to the water. The best way to keep a tree fresh and fire resistant is to always keep it supplied with water.

There are fire safety rules that need to be followed when dealing with live Christmas trees in the home. First, never leave home or go to sleep with the Christmas tree lights on, and use only UL-approved lights and nonflammable decorations. Second, don’t plug too many lights into an outlet. And last, remove the tree when it becomes too dry.

When the holiday season comes to an end, trees can be recycled. Recycling options include taking the tree to a location that grinds trees into mulch or creating a fish attractor by weighting the base of the tree and sinking it in a pond or lake. Another option is to use it as a bird feeding station or to provide cover for small animals.

Charles Phillips is a retired Columbia County Extension Service agent and operates Hort Consulting. He can be reached at cphillipshort@comcast.net, or at (706) 836-2152.

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