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Tips help choose, maintain Christmas trees

Posted: December 2, 2012 - 1:05am

Live Christmas trees have been brought into homes and decorated during the holidays for more than 500 years. Each year, more than 33 million live Christmas trees are placed in households across the United States. Live trees have an attractiveness, fragrance and tradition that cannot be matched by artificial substitutes.

It takes five to 12 years to grow a Christmas tree. For each tree harvested, two or three seedlings will be planted for future Christmases. The four most common types are pine, fir, spruce and cedar/cypress.

Pine trees have needles arranged in bundles of two to five and these bundles are held together by a sheath at the base of the needles. The most common Christmas pine is the Virginia pine, grown throughout Georgia. It has short yellow-green needles that are slightly twisted and arranged in bundles of two. The majority of Virginia pines will be dyed dark green.

The second most common pine sold is white pine. The white pine has blue-green needles 3 to 5 inches long arranged in bundles of five. These pines hold their needles well but wilt noticeably.

The Scotch pine has needles 1 to 1 1/2 inches long. The needles are arranged in bundles of two. These trees are usually found at cut-your-own lots or local garden centers.

Cedar/cypress trees are grown in the Augusta area. The most common is the Eastern red cedar. The Eastern red cedar has sharp pointed needles and scale-like leaves. The color of the needles ranges from green and blue-green to yellow-green. These trees dry out rapidly after cutting and begin to lose needles, so close attention must be paid to their water supply. The Deodar cedar has needles arranged in clusters on short spurs on the branches. The color ranges from waxy blue to blue-green.

The most common cypress is the Leyland cypress, which has fine, fern-like foliage, holds up well and shows very little wilting.

Firs have needles arranged in rows with one on each side of a branch. The needles are flat and the cones are upright on the branches. Retail lots most often have the Fraser fir, grown in the mountains of North Carolina. The Fraser fir has needles that are 1/2 to 1 inch long and dark green.

Proper care will ensure the health of a tree. With a cut tree, care begins during the selection process. Select a tree that is at least a foot shorter than the ceiling height. The next step is to check for freshness. If the tree is fresh, the needles will spring back to their original position when a hand is moved down the limb. Lastly, check the “handle,” the section of trunk where the stand will be mounted, ensuring it is straight. The handle must be 6 to 8 inches long.

After bringing the tree home, remove at least an inch off the bottom of the trunk. This will open the vessels in the tree that take up water. Then, place the tree in the stand and give it plenty of water. Check the water level several times each day. Trees may use several quarts of water a day.

Never let the water level fall below the base of the tree. If this occurs, the cut end can seal over and prevent further water uptake. The tree will then need to be taken out of the stand and a fresh cut made to the base to reopen the vessels. Research has shown that adding aspirin, soda water, bleach or sugar to the water is no more effective in keeping the tree fresh than adding plain water each day.

Lastly, keep the tree away from fireplaces and heat ducts. They will dry the tree out. Make sure the lights on the tree are working and are UL approved for safety. Use nonflammable decorations and never leave home or go to bed with the Christmas tree lights on.

Tripp Williams, Columbia County’s agriculture and natural resource agent, can be reached at (706) 541-4011, or trippj@uga.edu.

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