Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Fresh Trees Liven Up the Holiday Season

Charlie Brown trees and brown needles don’t have to haunt you this holiday season. With the help of a few tips and tricks from the University of Georgia, your Christmas tree will be fresh long after the celebrating is over.

Before picking out a tree, decide the size, species and how much you want to spend. Then, select a fresh tree that has been properly maintained and cared for while still on the lot.

“Taking really good care of a tree at home after you purchase it does not reverse the abuse it can get waiting on the lot,” said Don Gardner, the UGA Cooperative Extension coordinator in Glynn County.

Picking the freshest tree

Look for trees displayed in the shade or under a tent and in tree stands with water in them. The sun and wind pull water out of the tree, so good growers will keep their trees out of the sun.

To find the perfect tree, look for one with uniform distribution of branches and no holes in the needle canopy. Also make sure it smells fresh.

“The more water stress the tree is under, the less fragrance it emits,” Gardner said. “Fresh trees smell better.”

Test freshness by gently pulling several of the branch ends through your hand to see how many needles fall off.

“Don’t try to strip the needles off the branch,” said Gardner. “Stroke it as if it were a cat’s tail -- a cat you like. All cut trees will lose some needles, but the fewer the better.”

From the farm

Although there is little difference between buying a tree from a local tree farm or from a commercial retailer, buying from a farm is great for making family memories and helps keep local farmers in business, Gardner said.

“Loading everybody into the truck to pick out a tree at a farm is a fun day itself,” Gardner said, “and the more family members involved in picking out the tree, the more eyes there are making sure the tree stays watered.”

Many Georgia tree farms also hold family events and offer refreshments during farm visits.

“Buying local helps keep your friendly neighborhood Christmas tree grower in business and keeps good farmland in production,” Gardner said. “Buying from a local tree farm is definitely the ‘green’ thing to do.”

Taking it home

To get your Christmas tree home safely, have the seller tie it up and put the tree inside your vehicle if possible. If you put the tree on your vehicle rooftop, bring a few large plastic bags and put the tree in the bags stump end first. Then face the stump end forward on your rooftop. This will reduce wind blow-drying effects and water loss.

Many sellers will offer to trim off the stump end of the tree, Gardner said. Instead, wait until you get home to do so.

At home, trim low limbs and cut the tree stump at an angle with a sharp saw. Gardner advises running water over the stump while cutting it.

“While making the cut, have a helper hold a running hose over the cut so you are virtually making the cut under water. This is the difference between a tree that lasts two weeks and a tree that lasts two months,” Gardner said.

Then, quickly move the tree into your house and into its stand. Immediately add water until the tree stand is about two-thirds full. Then secure the tree into the stand.

After your tree is in place, keep it watered. Be sure the trunk’s cut surface is never exposed to the air.

“A new tree may surprise you at how much water it will suck up and how quickly it will do it,” Gardner said. “A 10-foot tree can use over a quart of water in the first three hours.”

Water your tree at least three times a day during the first few days and twice a day thereafter.

By Allie Byrd
University of Georgia

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