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Find and keep the perfect Christmas tree

November 9, 2008
By Crystal Stewart, For The Leader-Herald

It's almost time for many people to start their search for this year's perfect Christmas tree.

Each year the search for a natural tree sends people out to the tree farms, into parking lots turned temporary forest, and sometimes even to nurseries.

With a little bit of care and know-how, finding a quality tree and keeping it looking good through the holiday season can be relatively easy.

Finding a tree at a temporary retail lot has benefits and setbacks.

These lots, usually situated in well traveled areas, are certainly quick and convenient.

However, the cost of a tree is often somewhat higher than at a cut-your-own operation, and the quality may not be as good depending on how long ago the tree was cut.

When selecting a tree from a retail lot, pay close attention to the freshness of the tree.

The needles should be bright green and flexible enough to bend without breaking.

Green needles should not come off in large numbers, even if you give the tree a gentle shake.

If the tree feels dried out, don't purchase it! It will not recover, and may pose a greater fire hazard than a well hydrated tree.

If you choose to purchase a tree from a cut-your own tree farm, you will be guaranteed a very fresh tree.

Call your tree farm in advance if you have never been there.

Many farms offer more than just trees, including wreaths and ornaments, sleigh rides, and other entertainment.

Make sure that when you cut your tree you leave enough stump to re-cut the tree when you get home, removing one inch and exposing fresh wood to take up water.

Every tree should be re-cut and quickly placed in water as soon as you get it home.

Trees will continue to take up water for weeks after they are harvested.

This water keeps the trees from losing needles, but it also keeps them from becoming flammable. According to Virginia Cooperative Extension, a well-watered tree is enough protection against fire and a tree that is taking up water does not need to be sprayed with fire retardants.

To further protect your tree from drying out, place it out of the path of heat vents and other heat sources.

Some people may choose the purchase a live tree instead of a cut tree.

This can be very difficult, because the trees are stressed by moving inside and then back outside again. However, it is possible to keep a tree alive through careful planning and care.

In New York, where the ground can be frozen by Christmas, you will want to dig a hole for the tree in advance or have a pile of mulch large enough to completely cover the root ball after the tree is placed back outside.

When you buy the live tree, make sure to let it stay in an area just above freezing for a few days before bringing it inside.

Unheated garages can work well for this purpose. After letting the tree warm gradually, make sure the root ball is moist and then bring it in the house and place it in the coolest place possible.

You will want to leave it inside for no more than 10 days, because the buds could begin to grow, and they will die when placed back outside.

Even with these precautions, there is still a chance that your living tree will not make it due to the stress of the temperature changes and the time of planting.

A better option may be to plant a live tree outside and decorate it there.

According to Craig Clark, the Financial Literacy Community Educator at CCEFM, when you decorate a tree inside or outside, lighting selection can have a huge impact on your energy bill.

"When it comes to lighting your Christmas tree, LEDs are the way to go. LED lights use only a fraction of the electricity that older screw-in incandescent lights use," Clark said.

He also noted that a string of 300 LED lights will cost only 50 cents to operate six hours a day during the entire 45-day holiday season.

Larger incandescent lights can use up to $100 worth of electricity during the same time period.



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