Be wise in Christmas tree selection, care

Published: Thursday, December 12, 2013 at 09:12 AM.

Buying a fresh tree is probably the most important piece of advice we can offer.  There are a couple of reasons why a fresh tree is important.  Obviously a fresh tree will last, and look better longer.  Old, dried-out trees are unattractive.  Also they are fire hazards as well.  Since most of us include electric lights in our tree decorations, it’s easy to see that a dried out tree becomes very dangerous.  My information on purchasing and caring for Christmas trees was provided by Emeritus Extension Horticulture Specialist Dr. Robert Black, of The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS).

There are several ways to determine a tree’s freshness.  Bend the needles if the tree is fresh, the needles will be supple and springy.  If the tree is old, the needles will snap and break off.  Bounce the tree’s stump on the ground to see how many needles fall.  It’s normal for a fresh tree to drop a few needles.  But, if bouncing produces a shower of needles, put the tree back and select another.  Before buying, also feel the bottom of the stump.  The sap of a fresh tree is sticky.  On an old stump, it’s hard and caked.  A fresh tree also should have a pleasant fragrance – one that will last through the Christmas season.

The tree you select should have a good green color, be full and bushy, and have sturdy branches.  Strength of branches is more a matter of the tree type than the tree’s age or condition.  White Pine and Red Cedar trees are well suited to the Florida climate.  But, unfortunately, they both have fairly weak boughs that won’t hold decorations very well.  Firs, Spruces, Virginia and Scotch Pines on the other hand, usually have very firm branches.

Since Firs, Spruces and Scotch Pines don’t grow naturally in Florida; they have to be imported from Northern States.  So, they usually cost a lot more than either White Pines or Red Cedars.  In addition to lower prices, Florida grown trees have another advantage.  If you can get living trees balled in burlap, they can be added to the landscape after the Christmas season is over.

The key to maintaining a fresh Christmas tree throughout the holiday season is giving the tree proper care from the time it is purchased until it is disposed of.  Before you setup your tree, make a fresh, straight cut across the base of the tree and place the tree in a tree stand that hold at least two quarts of water.  Be sure you keep the stand filled at all times.  It’s surprising how quickly a good-size tree can take up a quart of water.  Check the water level at least once a day.

Place your tree in the coolest part of the room.  Keep it away from things like fireplaces, heaters, air ducts, and even TV sets.  The heat form these can cause the tree needles to dry out and drop off very quickly.

Proper Christmas tree care is only part of the story.  There are certain safety rules you should follow carefully.  Never use candles or anything with an open flame on or near the tree.  If you’re using electric lights, check them over very carefully for loose connections and worn wires.  Don’t overload your electrical circuits.  If you must use an extension cord, run it out of the way of foot traffic, and be sure it’s heavy enough for the current load.  Always turn the tree lights off when you leave home or go to bed.

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