Holiday Help: Choosing and Caring for a Christmas Tree
by Judie Docs, Executive Officer, North Coast BIA, CSP, MCSP, CGP, CMP, MIRM
The Christmas tree is the centerpiece of holiday memories for many people. While artificial trees are a popular choice for some, selecting and decorating a live tree remains a treasured tradition for many families.
Whether you purchase your tree in a retail lot or at a cut-your-own tree farm, be sure to know what height and width you need before making a purchase. A seven-foot tree will fit in most rooms with standard-height ceilings.
Here are a few other things to keep in mind to ensure you get the tree you want and keep it in good shape throughout the holiday season.
Selecting Your Tree from a Retail Lot
Set up in temporary, high-traffic areas such as shopping center parking lots, retail lots work well for people without the time to travel beyond the suburbs. You often get a variety of species to choose from, but will likely pay more for the convenience.
Look for a lot that stores the trees in a shaded area, but is well-lit so you can closely inspect them. Check the tree for freshness by bending a few needles. According to the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA), needles on pines will not break unless they are very dry, while needles on firs should break crisply like a carrot.
Other signs that the tree is not as fresh as it could be are brownish needles, wrinkled bark, a musty smell and needle loss. Lift the tree a couple inches and let it drop on the stem. Some needle loss is normal — conifers shed needles in the fall as they transition to the winter — but the outer green needles should not drop off.
Before you leave the lot, have the seller cut a half-inch from the bottom of the trunk at a right angle. This will help it balance in the stand and take in the most water possible.
Trekking to a Tree Farm
Cut-your-own tree farms ensure you will get a fresh tree, and make for a fun family activity. Tree farms often offer wagon or sleigh rides, refreshments and other entertainment. Most farms provide saws, or will cut and bring your tree to your vehicle for you.
Once you’ve left the lot or farm, be sure to get your tree into water within six to eight hours. If you’re not ready to display the tree indoors yet, it can be placed in a bucket in a cool area for a few days.
Maintaining a Fresh Tree
A traditional reservoir stand with adequate water capacity is the best way to maintain your tree’s freshness. One quart of water per inch of stem diameter is recommended. The temperature does not affect how much water the tree will take in.
To keep your tree from drying out once it is indoors:
- Make sure the water level doesn’t go below the tree’s base
- Keep tree away from heat sources such as fireplaces, vents and windows with direct sunlight
- Lower the room’s temperature
- Use miniature lights that produce low heat
- Turn off tree lights when you’re not home or you’re sleeping
After the holiday season, dispose of the tree properly. Never burn any part of a tree in the fireplace or wood stove. Recycling is the most environmentally-friendly method. If you’re not sure where to take the tree, the NCTA provides local recycling information at www.realchristmastrees.org or by calling 1-800-CLEANUP.
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