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Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 24, 2014

Yard and Garden: Buying and caring for a real Christmas tree

Nov 25, 2013

AMES — Buying local oftentimes means buying locally grown food, but in December, it also can mean buying a Christmas tree from a local grower. Christmas trees are grown in Iowa and all 50 states. There are approximately 100 choose-and-harvest farms in Iowa, where the top-selling Christmas trees are Scotch pine and white pine. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulturists provide tips on fresh Christmas trees. To have additional questions answered, contact Hortline at 515-294-3108 or <hortline@iastate.edu>.

What factors should be considered when purchasing a Christmas tree for the holidays?

A few decisions should be made before going out to buy a Christmas tree. Decide where you are going to place the tree in the home. Be sure to choose a location away from heat sources, such as a fireplace or radiator. Also, decide on the size (height and width) of the tree you want.

Christmas trees may be purchased from cut-your-own tree farms or as cut trees in commercial lots. A list of tree farms in your area can be found at the Iowa Christmas Tree Growers Association Web site at <http://www.iowachristmastrees.com/>. Carefully check trees at commercial tree lots to ensure the freshness of previously cut trees.

Tree species commonly available at tree farms and commercial lots in Iowa include Scotch pine, white pine, red pine, Fraser fir, balsam fir, Canaan fir, Douglas fir, white spruce and Colorado spruce.

When looking for a tree, select one that has a straight trunk. A tree with a straight trunk will be much easier to set upright in the stand. Check the diameter of the trunk to make sure it will fit in your stand. A tree with a bare side may be fine if you intend to place it in a corner or against a wall.

How can I determine the freshness of a cut Christmas tree?

The freshness of cut Christmas trees can be determined with a few simple tests. Gently run your hand over a branch. The needles on a fresh tree will be pliable. Those on a dry tree will be brittle. Another test is to lift the tree by the trunk and lightly bounce the butt on the ground. Heavy needle drop indicates a dry tree. A fresh tree will drop only a few needles.

What is the best way to store a cut Christmas tree?

If you don’t intend to set up the Christmas tree immediately, place the tree in a cool, sheltered location. An unheated garage or shed is often a suitable storage site. (The sun and wind dries out trees stored outdoors.) Put the butt of the tree in a bucket of water. Cut off the bottom 1 inch of the tree’s trunk before bringing the tree in the house. A fresh cut facilitates water uptake.

Should I add any material to the water to prolong the freshness of my Christmas tree?

Do not add molasses, sugar, soft drinks, aspirin or commercial products to the water. Additives provide no real benefit. The keys to keeping a Christmas tree fresh are to place the tree away from any heat source (fireplace, heater, radiator, etc.) and keep the tree reservoir full of water. Check the tree reservoir at least once or twice a day. Fresh trees absorb large quantities of water (especially in the first few days). If the water level drops below the bottom of the trunk, water uptake will be drastically reduced or cease when the reservoir is refilled.

How long can a cut Christmas tree remain in the house?

The length of time a cut Christmas tree can remain in the home is determined by the tree species, the freshness of the tree at purchase, and its placement and care in the home. In general, a fresh, well-cared-for Christmas tree should be able to remain in the home for three to four weeks. Remove the tree from the house when its needles become dry and brittle.

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