Christmas tree selection and care
By John Fulton
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For many families, the
Christmas tree is the main symbol of the holidays. Some have gone to
the artificial trees for convenience, allergies or other reasons,
but many still prefer to get "the real thing" for their symbol. Here
are some helpful hints to make your purchase and then keep your tree
safely through the holiday season.
Freshness is the key to having an
enduring symbol of the holidays. Freshness is directly related to
the moisture content in the needles. Once the tree is cut, its life
functions quit. However, if placed in water, it will continue to
function much like a wick as it absorbs moisture through the stem.
If adequate water is not available for the tree, the moisture
content of the needles (moisture is lost by transpiration in your
house) drops by about 35 percent to 50 percent. Trees that drop
below 85 percent moisture will not regain their freshness.
When identifying a fresh tree, one
obvious way is to cut your own (or observe it being cut). Many
families make a ritual out of selecting their own tree, and you know
that it is fresh that way. If you buy from a "lot," you need to buy
from a reliable dealer that can give information on how long the
trees have been cut. You then need to determine freshness for
Fresh trees have needles that are
relatively supple and firmly attached to the twigs. All trees will
have brown needles that will fall, but the green ones are the ones
that count! If the green needles tend to snap when bent between your
fingers, the tree is probably quite dry. If temperatures are low
(around zero), then all needles will snap since they are brittle.
Fresh trees will have a fragrance to them. They also will have a
waxy, natural green appearance, but some trees are sprayed with a
needle colorant to make them more green.
When caring for your freshly cut
tree, start with trying to avoid hauling the tree over a long
distance where it will be exposed to the wind. Air moving across the
needles is what actually dries them out. If you purchase your tree
from a sales lot, buying the tree early will help ensure better
freshness and selection. You can then take the tree home and give it
the proper attention.
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Once you get the tree home, you
should make a fresh cut on the trunk of the tree, place it
immediately in water and store it in a cool place (like your
garage). Avoid putting the tree on the ground, since it could freeze
in place and be difficult to move. The cut you make at home is
important. You should make a straight cut to make it easier on you,
and the tree will take up just as much water as if you made an
Water is then the rule! Make sure
your stand will hold enough water for your tree. A fresh tree may
use up to two quarts of water the first 24 hours and up to a quart a
day for the first week. You also have to have the water level above
the cut surface of the trunk to keep your tree fresh.
When you locate your tree, make sure
it is not by a fireplace, furnace outlet or other heat source, as
they will dry it out. Closing a heat register in the area of your
tree will help keep warm drafts from drying out one side of the
A properly cared-for tree that was
fresh to start with can safely be displayed in the home for at least
two weeks. The tree is actually your best indicator. If needles
start dropping and water use stops, there could be problems
Hopefully these tips will help you
enjoy your holiday season.
Fulton, unit leader,
Unit, University of Illinois Extension]