There’s nothing like the fragrance, the look, and the tradition of a fresh holiday tree. It’s one of the focal points of the holiday celebration and just can’t be matched by artificial substitutes. Most Christmas trees are grown at commercial farms and nurseries as a sustainable crop where it can take from five to 12 years to produce a tree. Once cut or dug and sold in containers, new trees are replanted the following spring making them both renewable and recyclable.
Finding your tree
Choose a tree lot that has trees standing in containers with water, or that have trees shaded, cooled and kept moist under tarps. Asphalt surfaces can absorb and retain tremendous amounts of heat that can quickly dry trees out.
There are a number of varieties to choose from. Fraser, Noble and Douglas firs and Scotch pine are the most popular varieties sold. Noble and Fraser firs are considered best at staying fresh and holding their needles the longest. Look for trees with green needles and full foliage; when you run your hand along a branch, those green needles should stay put. If they all fall off in your hand, keep looking. Regardless of the type you choose, purchase your tree as soon as possible, even if you intend to wait to put it up.
When you get your tree home
Once you get your tree home can keep it in the garage, on the north side of your home or other cool location out of the sun. As soon as possible make a fresh, straight cut across the base of the trunk (about one half inch up from the original cut) and place the tree in a tree stand that holds an adequate water supply.or in a pail of water until you’re ready to bring it indoors.
Select a location to display your tree and make sure it’s away from any heat sources, like heater vents or fireplaces. Trees like cold temperatures and high humidity, so keep that in mind. In the first 24 hours a tree will absorb as much as a gallon of water or more and one or more quarts per day after that. Water is important because it prevents the needles from drying and dropping off and the boughs from drooping. Keeping it well watered is the single most important step in avoiding a tree that dries out. Check on the water at least once a day as a sap seal can form across the cut end in just a few hours and will prevent any more water from being absorbed.
Keeping your tree fresh
Research has shown that plain tap water is all that’s needed. Some commercial additives and home concoctions can actually be detrimental to a tree’s moisture retention and increase needle loss. Water holding stands that are kept filled with plain water will extend the freshness of trees for weeks.
- Avoid combustible decorations such as paper, wood, or plastic.
- Always unplug your lights/decorations before going to bed or leaving home.
- Make sure your smoke detector is in good working order and a fire extinguisher is nearby and in good working order.
- Never place candles or other open flame sources on or near your tree.
Living Christmas trees
Living trees are a perfect choice for those that want to plant a tree after the holidays. Look for varieties that will grow in your area. For the low deserts choose Aleppo Pine, Eldarica (Afghan) Pine or Italian Stone Pine. For higher elevations look for Austrian Pine, Pinon Pine, Douglas fir or Arizona Cypress.
- Leave the tree outside or in a cold garage until you’re ready to decorate it – keeping in mind that a living pine tree can stay inside only for about ten days.
- Clean your tree before you bring it inside – brush off dead needles and spider webs and wipe off dust.
- Place a protective shield under the tree’s container to prevent damage to floors or tabletops.
- Check the soil daily for dryness – it should stay damp but not wet, and it will need more water inside than it needs outside. Ice cubes can be used to water the tree if you like. They melt slowly and can prevent overwatering.
- Move the tree back outside as soon as possible after the holidays.
After the holidays
Once your tree is no longer absorbing water, it’s time to take it down. Don’t wait until all the needles have dried out or dropped off as it can become a fire hazard.
Instead of sending your tree to the landfill, why not recycle it? Many communities schedule tree pick-up days or provide drop off locations where trees will be chipped and used for mulch and compost.
If you don’t have room in your yard for your living tree, check with your city’s parks department. They often accept donations of live trees to be used in parks or public spaces.
For more information on holiday trees visit the National Christmas Tree Association http://www.christmastree.org/debate.cfm