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Country Skills

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How to Choose a Christmas Tree

Before you select your Christmas tree, decide where in your home you will display the tree. This determines the height, width and number of faces (sides) that must be free from damage.

You must also decide whether you want a live or cut tree. Live trees, if cared for properly, may be planted outdoors after Christmas. Live trees are available from most garden centers and some retail lots. Cut trees are available from garden centers, retail lots and 'choose-and-cut' operations.

'Choose-and-cut' operations, as the name implies, allow you to wander around the farm or woods, select your tree, and cut it yourself. This can be a fun outing for the family.

To be sure that your cut tree is fresh, try the following;

1. Bend a needle to check its resilience. If it does not break but springs back into position, the tree is fresh.

2. Bump the base of the tree solidly on the ground. If only a few needles drop, the tree is fresh.

3. Feel the bottom of the stump. On fresh trees, it feels sappy and moist.

Be sure to bring your tree stand with you when selecting a tree. Most tree stands have a ring that goes around the tree trunk. You cannot buy a tree with a trunk bigger than that ring. Many people buy trees only to get them home and find that the trunk is too big to fit in their tree stand. Then they shave the trunk to make it fit as you would sharpen a pencil.

Anyone who understands how trees grow should quickly see the problem with this solution. Fresh trees need to take up water in order to stay fresh while they are indoors. The xylem, or water-conducting tissue, is located just below the bark of the tree. If you remove that layer, the xylem won=t be in contact with the water and the tree can=t replenish the moisture it loses.

The best way to deal with a Christmas tree with a thick trunk is to buy an expandable tree stand. Another solution is to cut off the trunk until you get to a diameter that will fit in your stand. Unfortunately, you will be loosing some of the height of the tree with this method.

To maintain a fresh, attractive and safe tree through the holiday season, you should follow this procedure once you bring your tree home;

1. cut about one inch off the butt of the tree.

2. Place the tree in a container of water and store in a cool, shaded area, sheltered from the wind, until you are ready to set up.

3. Just before putting the tree in its stand, cut another inch off the butt of the tree. This fresh cut will allow the tree to take up water more readily once it is moved inside.

4. Place the tree in a tree stand or any other container that can be filled with water. Fresh trees take up lots of water. You should check the water level two hours after setting up the tree. Then check the water level morning and evening to see that it is above the bottom of the tree's trunk. It is not uncommon for cut trees to take up a quart or more of water daily.

5. Be sure the tree is well supported and placed away from fireplaces, radiators, televisions or any other source of heat.

6. Never leave your home with the Christmas tree lights on.

A live Christmas tree is a tree with a root system and soil surrounding the roots, wrapped in a protective cover. When choosing a live tree, it is important to pick a species that will grow well in your location.

After purchasing your tree, keep it in a shaded, cool location and protect the root ball from freezing by covering it with straw, leaves, or mulch. Dig the planting hole for your tree before the ground freezes and fill it with leaves or mulch to keep the sides of the hole from freezing. It is best to store the backfill soil in the garage or basement so it will not freeze.

A live tree should remain indoors no longer that one week. The shorter the time indoors, the better chance of survival. Place the root ball in a tub and keep it moist, but do not allow the root ball to sit in a pool of water. After Christmas, plant the tree outdoors and enjoy it for years to come.

KP, WA, entered 1999-12-17

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