Submitted by Krista Harding, KState Extension Southwind District
The selection and purchase of a Christmas tree has become an annual tradition for many families who chose a real tree over an artificial substitute. For many, bringing home a tree is often the kick-off of the holiday season. Today, live trees can be found just about anywhere you look such as retail lots, shopping centers and the ever popular choose-and-cut farms. Of course, real trees do require some extra care to keep them looking good through the holiday season.
When choosing a tree, freshness is the most important factor. Purchasing trees that have already been cut for a period of time are probably the most difficult trees to keep fresh and fragrant due to the length of time from cutting until the tree is placed in the home. A fresh tree should have a healthy, green appearance without a lot of dead or browning needles. As you stroke the tree, needles should not come off into your hand. Another good test to do before buying a tree is to raise the trunk a few inches off of the ground and then drop the tree on the cut end. When this is done, only a few, inner dried needles should fall, and certainly not any green outer needles.
Once the tree is brought home, its continued freshness will depend on the type of care that is provided. A 1-inch re-cut across the bottom of the tree should be made. This will remove any clogged wood that may not absorb water. Put the tree into a stand or container of warm water and place it in as cool a spot as possible. Avoid placing it in an area where there is a heat source such as a fireplace, wood-burning stove, heat ducts and even television sets. This will help to preserve the freshness, reduce water loss and lessen the fire danger.
Depending on the size and species of tree, the use of a gallon of water in the first day would not be uncommon. Therefore, the tree should be checked frequently and re-watered as necessary. If the tree does become dried out, it probably will not absorb water. It may be necessary to take the tree down and re-cut the bottom to allow the absorption of water. This is inconvenient, but it is the only way to prevent early needle loss if a tree has become dried out. In the past, some have thought that adding aspirins, copper pennies, soda pop, sugar and bleach to the water may prolong the life of a tree. This has not been proven.
Should you choose a living Christmas tree, they definitely require special care. Once the tree is brought home, it should be conditioned before being placed in a heated room. Leave the tree in an unheated garage or building for a couple of days. After conditioning, the tree can be brought in and placed in a cool location away from direct sunlight. Watering a live tree should be done prior to placing it in the home, by moistening the root ball.
Living trees should not be kept inside for more than 10 days. Exposure to warm temperatures may cause the dormant tree to break buds and start to grow. Before removing the tree and planting it outside, it should be allowed to acclimate itself the same way before it was brought inside. The planting hole should be dug before the ground freezes. Once planted, water well and place some mulch around it to prevent the soil water from freezing.
With proper selection and care, you can enjoy a fresh tree throughout the holiday season. And with a real tree, you don’t have to worry about storing it for a year before using it again! They just take a little more work while on display.
Krista Harding is a K-State Research and Extension Agricultural agent assigned to Southwind District. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 620-244- 3826.