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Do you have tips for selecting and caring for a christmas tree?

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Many Utahns will soon visit their local tree grower or tree lot in search of the perfect Christmas tree. Selecting a good tree and proper care for it once it is home can ensure a safer, more enjoyable holiday season. Consider these tips.

· Before going shopping, measure the area in your home where the tree will be placed. Measure both width and ceiling height. Remember that several inches will be cut from the butt end, but also that the stand will add several inches to the tree’s overall height.

To ensure that the tree will remain evergreen through the holidays, check for freshness and moistness. Once needles become dry, they usually stay dry -- even when the tree is placed in a stand with water. The best way to ensure that your tree is fresh is to buy from a local grower or from a retailer you know and trust. Trees shipped into Christmas tree lots from out of state may be fresh, but some can be old and dry. Gently pull on several needles to check for freshness. If many come off, look for another tree. Also, lift the tree and strike the butt end on the ground. If many needles fall from the twigs, the tree is probably not fresh. You can also break a few needles to see if they are moist and fragrant. Don’t worry if old unattached needles have accumulated inside the crown. Though these needles can be messy, they do not indicate a poor tree and can easily be removed. Fir and pine trees hold needles better than spruce trees. Check the color. Some trees are sprayed with blue-green dye. Though the dye can be harmless, it can be hiding a dry tree. Be sure tree limbs are strong enough to support lights and ornaments. Limbs should also be well placed to give the tree a pleasing shape. Minor defects in the tree can often be turned toward a wall and can also lower the purchase price. Once a fresh tree is brought home, re-cut a thin section from the butt end and place the tree in a pail of water until you are ready to decorate it. Keep the tree outside and away from sun and wind so it does not become dry. When you are ready to bring the tree in, cut the butt end again if it has been stored more than three or four days. This cut section can be hung with a ribbon and made into an ornament by marking the rings with significant years in your family’s history. Most sections will have seven to 10 growth rings. Once inside, the tree should be placed in a sturdy stand that holds at least one gallon of water. A fresh tree can lose this much or more water a day. Place the tree away from heaters, furnace vents, televisions and other heat sources. Lights on the tree should be UL approved and protected by an inline fuse. Small pinpoint lights work well because they stay cool. Don't be sentimental about old Christmas tree lights. Old lights with cracked insulation or loose sockets should be discarded. Turn lights off when the tree is unattended. Flammable decorations should not be used on a Christmas tree with electric lights. Candles should never be used to light a Christmas tree or wreath. A fresh tree that is watered daily can stay moist and safe for several weeks. If a tree is displayed in a public building, it should be kept no longer than 15 days and should be treated with a fire retardant solution.

Christmas trees can be useful even after they are taken down. Trees can be placed in the yard to add greenery and act as a bird haven until spring. They can also be used for firewood or chopped and used as mulch. Many communities have programs to gather trees after Christmas to be chipped as mulch or used for other purposes. Choose-and-cut trees are available from Christmas tree growers throughout Utah. Use the same selection tips to buy a choose-and-cut tree as you would a pre-cut tree. Some growers will cut the tree for you, and others will have you cut your own. For the locations of local growers, contact your county Extension office. For additional information on Christmas trees, visit http://extension.usu.edu/forestry/HomeTown/General_UtahChristmasTrees.htm or http://extension.usu.edu/forestry/HomeTown/General_ChristmasTrees.htm.

Posted on 27 Nov 2005

Michael Kuhns
Forestry Specialist

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