Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tips for Choosing and Caring For Your Christmas Tree

'Tis the season to decorate your home for Christmas, if you're so inclined, and the Christmas tree is usually a featured item.  Here are a few tips to help you get the most from your tree.

Size is usually the first consideration when choosing a tree.  Before you begin shopping, make sure you know how much space you have available.  Measure ceiling height and width of the area where you intend to set it.  If you buy a cut tree, remember that you'll shorten the tree a few inches when you cut off a bit of the trunk end.  On the other hand, the tree stand may add a few inches.  Don't forget that an ornament on the top of the tree may add some height.  Since you pay for size, it's better to buy a tree slightly smaller than needed than to buy one too large that is need of trimming.

Several types of trees are commonly available, including cut trees, potted or balled & burlapped trees, and artificial trees.

Cut Trees

Cut trees are very popular.  You can purchase them from dealers, select and cut your own from a local grower, or harvest a native tree from the forest.

For your tree to last throughout the holiday season, it must be fresh and moist.  A dry tree can not be revived, so select a good tree in the beginning.  Here's how:
  • Pull gently on the needles. If they come off easily, forget it and look for another tree.  
  • Give the tree a good shake or bump the cut end of the trunk on the ground.  Green needles should not fall off.  Sometimes brown needles may have collected on the inner branches near the trunk.  If brown needles fall out, the tree is probably okay.
  • Make sure that the needles are green, pliable and fragrant.
  • Buy your tree early as soon as possible after they have been delivered to the dealer.  Waiting until nearer Christmas will not ensure that your tree is fresher.
  • Make sure that branches are well-placed and strong enough to support your ornaments.
  • Purchase locally grown trees, if possible.  They are often fresher because they are not shipped long distances, and buying from local growers helps to support your neighbors.
When my children were small, we often visited local pick-your-own Christmas tree farms.  Walking through manicured forests was an adventure for the kids, and we knew that our trees couldn't be any fresher.  Pick-your-own farms will usually cut the tree for you when you've made your selection, but some expect you to cut-your-own.  Check with the grower before you visit.

Use a substantial tree stand with a large water reservoir to provide stability and adequate moisture.  A 1-gallon capacity reservoir is ideal.  Stands for very large trees should have supporting legs or cross-pieces to prevent the tree from falling.

When you get your tree home, store it out of sun and wind with the end in a bucket of water if you can't set it up immediately.  Before you set it up, cut a couple of inches off the bottom to expose fresh wood.  This will enable your tree to take up water from the reservoir in the tree stand.

Avoid placing your tree near heating vents and sources of flame.  Heating vents will dry the tree.  Sources of flame may ignite your tree if it does dry out before the holiday is over.  A dry tree is a very flammable object.

Keep the reservoir filled.  Your tree should continue to draw on the water and remain fresh.  If the reservoir is allowed to dry out, the butt end of the tree will also dry and will not longer take up moisture.

Potted or Balled & Burlapped Trees

Some purchase potted or balled & burlapped trees with roots intact hoping to plant it after the holiday is over and grow it successfully in the landscape.  This may not be easy to accomplish, but here are a few tips that might help.
  • Buy a healthy specimen of a species that is known to survive in your area.  A fraser fir planted in south Georgia won't stand a chance.
  • Carry the tree by the pot or root ball.  Lifting the tree by the trunk or limbs may separate the roots from the rest of the tree.
  • Keep the tree in a cool, shaded place until brought indoors.
  • Maintain moisture in the pot or root ball until it is planted after Christmas.
  • Avoid placing your tree near heating vents and sources of flame.
  • Enjoy the tree indoors for about a week.  If kept inside any longer, the health of the tree may decline and it might not survive.
  • Dig the planting hole no deeper than the depth of the root ball.  The hole should be two or three times as wide as the root ball.
  • Remove the tree from the pot or plastic wrapping before planting.  It is not necessary to remove burlap wrapping material.  Once again, move the tree by the root ball, not the top part of the tree.

Artificial Trees

Artificial trees go in and out of style, but make your selection based upon what is right for you.  At any rate, artificial trees should be used wisely.  Avoid sources of flame.  Check all electrical wiring to make sure it is in good condition.  Artificial trees may be treated with flame retardants, but that doesn't make them flame-proof.  Toxic fumes may be emitted from smouldering material.  Electric lights should not be used on metal trees.

Tree Safety and Care

Let's not spoil Christmas with an accident.  Keep these tips in mind:
  • As mentioned before, position the tree away from heat sources.Make sure the tree is stable and not likely to fall over, even when your cat is climbing it.
  • Keep the water reservoir filled.
  • Use lights that are in good condition.  
  • Turn decorative lights off when the tree is unattended.
  • Never use candles to light your Christmas tree.
When Christmas is over, there are various eco-friendly ways you can dispose of your cut tree.  If left in the yard, out of public view, it will provide a welcome sanctuary for birds and small mammals until spring.  Christmas trees taken to your recycling center for chipping; some Christmas tree dealers even provide the service.  Gardeners sometimes used their Christmas tree branches for mulch or natural supports for tall perennials.

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