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Picking and Caring for A Live Holiday Tree


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For Prince George's residents, the Burnett's, choosing a fresh cut Christmas Tree is a family tradition -- "a day for us to be thankful for what we have." This year, they picked a tree at Behnke Nurseries. Standing in the background, Brian and Jamena, and their children (from left) Nalanie, Nevaeh and Niyah. Photo by Wanda Jackson

For Prince George's residents, the Burnett's, choosing a fresh cut Christmas Tree is a family tradition -- "a day for us to be thankful for what we have." This year, they picked a tree at Behnke Nurseries. Standing in the background, Brian and Jamena, and their children (from left) Nalanie, Nevaeh and Niyah. Photo by Wanda Jackson

Published on: Thursday, December 12, 2013

By Wanda Jackson, Special to The Sentinel

Christmas comes only once a year, and picking the perfect tree to jolly up the great room is a family tradition full of cheer and promise. But, with all the different types of trees out there, it’s tricky to know which one is right for your holiday decor. And, knowing how to keep it green and fragrant once you decorate it is a skill that eludes many yuletide merry-makers.

So before you turn your tannenbaum into a Charlie Brown special, consider these helpful tips from experts on how to pick one, measure for it and make sure it lasts through Dec. 25 and perhaps into the New Year.

Measure Twice, Buy Once. Before you head to the farm or tree lot, know what size tree can fit in your home. Allow for the height of your stand and the tree topper. Clear the space where you’ll stand your tree to determine how deep it is. You don’t want to squish the branches of the tree against the wall. Also, measure the size of your stand to ensure the trunk of your tree will fit in it.

Shop Local. For the freshest and healthiest trees, look for established tree farms or a lot that brings in trees from local farms.

Know Your Species. There are about 16 species of Christmas trees around the United States. The types and popularity varies geographically. For example, the classic tree and typically the least expensive in the Northeast is a Balsam Fir. It has a deep green color, excellent needle retention and is one of the most aromatic of all the Christmas trees.

A cousin to the Balsam Fir is the Fraser Fir. Its needles are typically three-quarters of an inch long with a shiny dark green top and silvery bottom.

Another Christmas tree is the Virginia Pine — the biggest seller and low-budget choice with its straight trunk and a classic pine sent. It has a lot of pitch, the natural resin that make the branches and trunk sticky.

If you’re allergic to pitch, consider the Leyland Cypress, which has very little scent or pitch, and a dark green color.

This year’s White House tree is a Douglas Fir from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. It’s portly in shape, with a pale green color and soft needles — which make it child-friendly.

Get a Live One. Picking the right tree is like picking ripe mango; you should smell and touch. When you bend several needles on the tree and they spring back into shape, the tree is fresh. If they break or remain bent, the tree has dried out too much. The tree should have a pungent evergreen smell, and its branches should be full and springy.

Tap the base of tree against a hard surface. If many needles, especially from the exterior, fall off, the tree is too dry. Needles that fall off from the interior of the tree are normal.

Wrap It Up. This ensures easy transport and prevents additional dying. Once home, put your tree in the basement or garage for a day or two. Putting a cold tree immediately into a warm house will shock the tree and cause its needles to drop earlier.

Make a Fresh Cut. Cutting the end off the trunk is critical to opening up the veins of the tree so water can get to its branches. Use a pruning saw to take at least an inch off. Of course, you can have the lot or nursery cut the trunk before you head home, but if you are going to be out more than four hours, the trunk will glaze over with new pitch and the tree won’t absorb water.

Stand Her Up. While the tree is still wrapped, place it on its side and use a rubber mallet to drive the stand’s prongs securely into the trunk before tightening thumbscrews that hold the tree in the stand. Before standing the tree, put newspaper or towels under where the stand will be to catch any spilled water.

Hydrate. Once the strand is upright, add clean water — lots of it — as quickly as possible. Expect that your tree will absorb at least a gallon of water the first couple of days. Just check your water levels and replenish as needed. Never let the water level drop beyond the cut end or you run the risk of pitch forming which will seal off the tree’s ability to absorb water. There usually isn’t a need for any additives like aspirin or plant food as long as the water is clean and fresh.

Decorate Safely. Once your tree is standing, let it settle for a couple of hours before hanging lights and ornaments. Never put your tree near the fireplace or lighted candles. Check your hanging lights for shorts and trouble spots before you string the tree. Put glass ornaments high on the tree, especially if your household has small children or pets who might knock them over or break them.

Recycle. There are numerous ways to recycle your tree when the holidays are over. Chop your tree and put it into your compost pile or chipper to make mulch. Otherwise, check disposal guidelines in your area.

For more information on Christmas trees, contact your local plant nurseries and Forest Service office.

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