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Christmas tree selection, care

By Staff | Dec 8, 2012

Selecting a Christmas tree is one of the highlights of the pre-holiday preparations. Choosing the “right” tree is much easier if you know what type and size you are looking for, the features that indicate a good tree and how to maintain freshness. Many different types of evergreens are used for Christmas trees. No one species can be considered the best all-around Christmas tree, since each have their own good points. Some of the Christmas trees available in our area are: Scotch Pine, Norway Pine, White Pine, Balsam Fir, Fraser Fir, and Douglas Fir.

The Scotch Pine has needles in a cluster of two and dark green in color. The needles are 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches in length and usually twisted. The tree is normally bushy with excellent needle retention.

Norway or Red Pine has needles in clusters of two and are dark green in color. The needles are 4-6 inches in length and not twisted. It is a coarse bushy tree and tends to be more open than other kinds of trees. They are quite heavy for their height and have very good needle retention.

White Pine has flexible soft needles, a fragrant aroma and is blue green in color. The needles are 1 – 2 inches long with five in each cluster. Branches are fine and will not support a heavy load of ornaments. They have very good needle retention and are usually light in weight for their height.

Balsam Fir has short, flat dark green needles, usually rounded at tips. Needles are arranged in two rows on the twigs which grow at right angles to the branch. Trees are fairly dense with good needle retention.

Fraser Fir has short, flat dark green needles; 1/2 – 1 inch in length. Trees have a traditional Christmas tree shape and are fairly dense. They have good needle retention, but do not hold their needles as well as the pines. Less fragrant than the Balsam Fir.

Douglas Fir has soft pliable needles which are attached around the twig instead of being in rows. Needles are dark yellow-green to blue-green in color and 1 – 1 1/2 inches in length. Trees are fairly dense with good needle retention.

A few simple procedures can make the selection of your Christmas tree easier:

Before going to buy determine where you will display your tree and the size tree you need.

Select a tree that is the right height for the space you have chosen. Cutting large portions off either end of the tree will tend to ruin its natural shape.

If the tree isn’t frozen, run your finger up and down a branch. The needles shouldn’t fall off easily.

If not frozen, shake or bounce the tree on the ground lightly to see that the needles are firmly attached. A few needles will normally fall off.

The tree limbs should be strong enough for lights and ornaments. The tree should have a strong fragrance and good color.

Be careful when loading the tree into car or other vehicle. If the temperature is very low, the tree may be frozen and can easily be damaged when loaded.

Christmas tree care is very important in keeping your tree looking its best. Several important things to remember in caring for your tree are:

Store your Christmas tree outside or in a very cool area until you are ready to set it up. If you are storing your tree indoors, re-cut the trunk at a slight diagonal about one inch above the original cut and place the tree in a container of water immediately. If you store your tree outdoors, make a new cut when you set up your tree in the home.

Be sure to keep water in your tree stand at all times. This allows the Christmas tree to absorb moisture and hold its needles longer. You may wish to use a tree preservative which will cause the tree to take up more water. Either a commercially prepared preservative such as Pro-long or a mixture of 7-Up and water will be effective.

Ensure that the base of your tree is well supported and that there is no danger of its falling over. Don’t set it up near heat vents, fireplaces, TV sets or other heat sources. Fire retardant solutions are available for use in public areas where fire codes require their usage.

When you set up your tree, check the lights and cords for loose connections or frayed wires. Keep metal foil icicles and tinsel out of the light sockets.

Keep lighted candles and other open flames away from the tree. Try to avoid the use of combustible decorations.

NEVER leave your home with the Christmas tree lights on.

Avoid accumulations of wrapping paper near or under your tree. Don’t place electrical toys under the tree.

Dispose of your tree at the end of the Christmas holiday. You may use it as an outdoor wildlife shelter or for mulching your perennials, but don’t throw it into your fireplace. It will be extremely combustible.

Make Your Christmas Poinsettia Last

With the proper care, poinsettias can last into March and April, and even be planted outside as herbaceous plants for the summer. Since poinsettias originate from Mexico they should be given the same care as any houseplant from the tropics. Ron Smith, North Dakota State University Extension Service Horticulturalist, offers the following basic tips:

Avoid drafts. This includes not only cold air, but also direct blasts from forced air heating systems.

Provide direct light every day. Place the plant by a window facing south or west.

Allow the poinsettia container to drain. This may mean removing the decorative wrap or simply slicing it. About 20-30 minutes after thoroughly watering the plant, dump out the excess from the saucer beneath the pot. This will help prevent root rot.

Keep the plant in the coolest room in the house, as long as it stays above 60 degrees. Bring the poinsettia out only when it is time to show it off.

If you need to transport the plant, protect it from the winter cold. Put a plastic bag over the top of the plant, and place the entire poinsettia in a grocery sack. Move it quickly into a warmed vehicle. It only takes about 20 seconds of direct cold exposure to injure a poinsettia.

Begin fertilization in January with standard houseplant material, and continue monthly until spring planting. Use the material at about half the recommended rate until new growth is evident. Once outside, fertilize full strength at the time of planting. If foliage begins to yellow, give a second dose.

You may be hesitant to keep a plant in your home or yard that has been rumored poisonous, but Smith says that there is no need to worry. Researchers at Ohio State University proved once and for all in the mid-seventies that poinsettias are not poisonous.

Yet, Smith notes that it is not a bad to idea to use caution around these plants, as they do extract milky sap when the leaves or stems are broken that has been known to cause minor skin irritations. Furthermore, holiday plants are often treated with systemic insecticides that can be harmful if ingested.

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