David Robson Extension Educator, Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois
Yard & Garden
Finding the Perfect Christmas Tree
Protect your investment by purchasing your Christmas tree early
Americans will buy millions of Christmas trees this holiday season, probably upwards of 30 million fresh trees. Those trees, raised over a period of five to 10 years on the average, don't just take care of themselves. Someone had to do it.
Christmas tree farmers, and they are farmers, take some of the least desirable farm land, and over time, battling temperature and water extremes, deer, mice, insects and diseases, coupled with weeds, and not to mention the hours sheering trees when they're young into the typical tight conical form, create that specimen you see on the corner lot.
And all this goes on during that five to 10 year period. The time and investment can be wiped out early in the process, or the year before the trees are cut and decorated.
All that effort is part of the reason for the prices of trees.
So, once you find that perfect tree, you want to protect your investment.
The first step is to "invest" early in the season.
Unless you go to a tree farm where they cut the tree in front of you, most trees have probably been cut since late October or early November, and stored in massive coolers. There are some farms that shift into hyper speed Thanksgiving week to get everything ready for Thanksgiving weekend and the following weekend, when most trees are sold.
All this means is that the trees you see in the store lot soon after Thanksgiving are probably the same trees you see three weeks later; they just haven't sold.
And you know how much care those trees receive on the lot - none. They're exposed to wind, lack of moisture, sun and temperatures. None of those weather conditions, with the possible exception of lots of moisture and overcast days, is beneficial to the plant.
If you don't want to put up your tree until the middle of December, at least buy it as soon as possible and store it in your garage with the cut end in a big bucket or tub of water. That way, the tree will still be soaking up moisture and be less of a fire hazard.
Of course, fresh cut trees are the best. Take the family to a Christmas tree lot, traipse through the farm, and find that perfect tree. The tree grower will cut it for you, and while you are breathing in the scent of fresh evergreen, you can relish in the fact that you have a fresh tree.
To prolong your investment, make sure that as soon as possible, you put that butt end of the tree in water. The adage of cutting an inch off the end still holds true after all these years. That allows the tree to soak up water, keeping needles pliable and making the tree less of a fire hazard.
There's no need to add anything to the water, though people swear by aspirin, copper pennies, which are getting harder to find, sugar, clear sodas like 7-Up or Sierra Mist, or even gin and vodka. None of the additives work any better than a freshly cut end and lots of water.
And the good news is that water tends to be cheap for Christmas trees.
To prolong the tree, keep it away from heat sources such as hot air registers, fireplaces and even a bright south window. Sure, you want the world to see your tree, but remember a picture window can magnify the sun's rays and warm the tree, making it suck up water faster or age quicker.
Finally, make sure that all lights used on the tree are UL approved, non-heat generating and the wires are not frayed. You may have the perfect tree, but make sure your Christmas lights are perfect as well. We want fires during the holiday to only happen in the fireplace.
David Robson is an Extension Educator, Horticulture, at the Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois Extension, P.O. Box 8199, Springfield, IL 62791. Telephone: 217-782-6515.
© 2007 Illinois Country Living Magazine.