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Choose best tree, then take care of it

December 01, 2008|By ANNETTE IPSAN

Oh Christmas tree,

Oh Christmas tree,

How lovely are thy branches ... if your tree is well-chosen and cared for.

There is nothing worse than decking your Christmas tree only to have it unceremoniously dump its needles in a week. So, let's talk about how to pick a good cut tree and care for it so it lasts throughout the holiday season.

Where should you buy your tree? There are plenty of Christmas tree farms in the area. It's good family fun to search a farm for the perfect tree and cut your own. Plus, a freshly cut tree lasts longer.

If you'd like a free brochure that lists all the local cut-your-own Christmas tree farms, write to me at: Christmas Trees, MD Cooperative Extension, 7303 Sharpsburg Pike, Boonsboro MD 21713, and include a self-addressed, stamped No. 10 envelope.

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Of course, many local stands offer Christmas trees that are already cut for you. Some even benefit local service organizations and are worth considering, too.

Once you're at the Christmas tree farm or stand, how do you tell a great tree from a good tree?

First, hold a branch near its base and gently pull it toward you. Few needles should fall off. Then bend a few needles at right angles. They should bend, not break.

If the tree is already cut, hold it upright by the trunk. Lift it a few inches off the ground and let the base of the trunk hit the ground. Only a few needles should drop.

To get your Christmas tree home in prime condition, put it inside your car or wrap it with cloth or plastic that is well secured. This prevents drying.

When you get your tree home, cut a half-inch off the trunk and put the tree in a bucket of warm water. Keep it in a cool, shaded area protected from the wind until ready to decorate.

When you bring your Christmas tree inside, put it in a tree stand that can hold at least a gallon of water. Place it as far away as possible from fireplaces, wood stoves, space heaters and other heat sources.

Check the water level often -- at least once a day -- and top it off with fresh water.

What type of Christmas tree lasts the longest? This is the subject of great debate over many a glass of eggnog. My answer as a horticulturalist is, "the tree that is most freshly cut and well cared for." My answer as a fan of all things Christmas is, "Colorado spruce." Yes, they are prickly -- I decorate mine wearing thin cotton gloves -- but they last four to five weeks.

Every type of Christmas tree has its advantages. White pines have a lovely soft appearance with their ultra-long needles. Colorado blue spruce and concolor fir have a rich blue color. Balsam fir has the most intense "Christmassy" scent.

Frasier fir and Norway spruce are long-lasting, and have a more open structure for showcasing ornaments. Eastern red cedar is a native tree that is a traditional choice for many local families since it's readily available on area farms and has been used for generations.

Whatever your preference, the secret to enjoying your family's Christmas tree longer is choosing it well and caring for it daily. May your Christmas tree be part of a holiday that is blessed and bountiful.

Annette Ipsan is the Extension educator for horticulture and the Master Gardener program in Washington County for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. She can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1604 or by e-mail at aipsan@umd.edu.

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