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Selecting the correct Christmas tree is an art

Posted: December 1, 2013 - 1:00am

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

Christmas trees are grown throughout the United States and Canada in a variety of species. 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.

A wide selection of trees can be found growing on cut-your-own lots, on retail lots, or in a local garden center. Christmas trees can be identified by the size, color and arrangement of their needles. The four 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 pine grown for Christmas is the Virginia pine, which is grown throughout Georgia. The Virginia pine has yellow-green needles that are 1½ inches long. These needles are slightly twisted and are arranged in bundles of two needles. The majority of the Virginia pines will be dyed a dark green color.

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

The last pine is the Scotch pine with needles 1 to 1½ inches long. The needles are arranged in bundles of two. These trees are usually found on a cut-your-own lot or in a local garden center.

Some local garden centers will have prepared these trees for use after the Christmas season. The root system will be balled and wrapped in burlap, also known as “B & B”, to be used in the home as a live Christmas tree and then planted in the landscape after Christmas.

Cedar/cypress trees are grown in and around the Augusta area. The most common of the Cedars is the Eastern Red-cedar. The Eastern Red-cedar has sharp pointed needles and scale-like leaves.

The Eastern Red-cedar is a traditional Southern Christmas tree. The next most common cedar is the Deodar Cedar. The Deodar Cedar has needles arranged in clusters on short spurs on the branches. The color of the needles ranges from waxy blue to blue-green. As for the Cypress, the most common is the Leyland Cypress. This tree has fine, fern-like foliage. They hold up well and show very little wilting. The second most common Cypress is the Arizona Cypress. This tree is similar to the Leyland Cypress, but the Arizona Cypress has foliage that is fine in texture and ranges from light green to bluish green. You can find this type of tree at many cut-your-own tree farms.

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.

Proper care to ensure the health of the tree during the holiday season is very important. With a cut tree, the care begins during the selection process.

First, check the height of the ceiling in the room where you will display your tree. Select a tree that is at least one foot shorter than the ceiling height. The next step is to check for freshness. If the needles are fresh, they will spring back to their original position when the hand is moved down the limb. If the tree is dry, the needles will fall off.

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. After cutting the trunk, place the tree in the stand and give it plenty of water. Check the water level in the stand several times each day.

Never let the water level fall below the base of the tree. If this occurs, the cut end can seal over and prevent water uptake. If this occurs, the tree will need to be taken out of the stand and a fresh cut made.

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