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Picking the perfect Christmas tree

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[NOV. 24, 2004]  URBANA -- If you are interested in finding the ideal Christmas tree to decorate your home during the upcoming holiday season, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator has a few helpful hints.

"Christmas just isn't Christmas without a real tree," said Ron Wolford. "You can't beat the smell of a real tree, but before purchasing one, you might want to consider the following steps."

Wolford recommends measuring the height of the ceiling of the room in which the tree will be placed and subtracting 1 foot to account for the tree stand.

"This will give you the maximum height to allow for your tree," he said. "Allow space for that tree-topping ornament. Choose a tree that fits where it is to be displayed.

"For example, if the tree is displayed in front of a large window, then all four sides should look as good as possible. If the tree is to be displayed against a wall, then a tree with three good sides would be OK. A tree with two good sides will work well in a corner. The more perfect a tree, the more costly it will be."

Trees sold from retail lots may have been harvested in early November, he noted. He recommended that consumers buy a tree early, before the best ones are sold.

"Fresh trees will have a healthy green color with just a few brown needles," he said. "The needles should be flexible and stay on the branch if you run it through your hand. Raise the tree a few inches off the ground and drop it on the butt end. Just a few needles should fall off. Some brown needles in the inner part of the tree are normal."

Cutting down a tree at a local Christmas tree farm, however, solves the freshness question, and consumers will also have a larger selection of trees to choose from.

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"Some farms allow you to tag or reserve a tree during the summer, helping to avoid having to find the perfect tree in bitter cold weather," he said. "Dress warmly for your visit to the tree farm, wear comfortable shoes and don't forget a tape measure. Bring a camera to take that family picture of everyone around your newly cut tree."

Most farms, he noted, will supply a saw and will bale the tree to make transporting it home much easier. Before cutting down the tree, make sure that the base of the tree is straight and at least 6 to 8 inches long, so it will fit into the tree stand. Cover the tree with plastic or tarp to keep it from drying out on the trip home.

"If you are not putting the tree up right away, store it in an unheated garage or some other area out of the wind and cold -- freezing -- temperatures," Wolford said. "Make a fresh 1- to 2-inch cut on the butt end and place the tree in a bucket of warm water. When you decide to bring the tree indoors, make another fresh 1- to 2-inch cut and place the tree in a sturdy stand that holds at least one gallon of water.

"A tree can use two quarts of water per day. Be sure to check the water level daily and keep it above the base of the tree. If the base dries out, resin will form over the cut end and the tree will not be able to absorb water."

Wolford said more information about Christmas trees is available at U of I Extension's Christmas Trees and More website at http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/trees.

[University of Illinois news release]

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