How to choose and care for the perfect Christmas tree

County Agent’s Corner

There are numerous choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms in Alabama. -Dr. Jeremy Pickens | Alabama Extension

There are numerous choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms in Alabama. -Dr. Jeremy Pickens | Alabama Extension

As the Thanksgiving holiday becomes a fond memory, our focus shifts to all things Christmas. And the pinnacle of Christmas decorating is finding the perfect tree. If fresh-cut trees are not your thing, then this article is not for you. However, if your goal is to find a tree that even Lucy is proud of (forgive the Peanuts reference), there are a few points to consider.

First, we need to look at timing. Most commercially-available, fresh-cut trees are harvested in early November. For the consumer this may seem quite early and pose a challenge to keeping the tree looking its best until the last present is unwrapped. If the tree was properly handled by the grower and placed in cold storage prior to shipping, freshness will not be an issue. If the tree was harvested and subjected to wind and sun exposure, it will dry out decreasing its shelf life dramatically and posing a fire risk.

How can you tell if your tree is fresh? The key to freshness is moisture. Ask yourself the following questions:

• Are the trees displayed in water?

• Is the ground of the tree selection area damp from regular irrigation?

• Is the tree heavy? Weight indicates moisture content.

• What color are the needles? If they are rich, dark green the tree has received all of the water it needs.

A guaranteed way to know that your tree is as fresh as possible is to go cut your own. There are numerous choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms scattered throughout Alabama. Not only are you supporting a local grower, but what fond family memories can be made combing the field to find the perfect tree. Take a look at the following link to find a choose-and-cut farm near you (www.southernchristmastrees.org/AL-Farms.html).

Choosing the right type of tree is as important as choosing a fresh one. Your options will vary depending on whether you choose a pre-cut tree or one that you cut yourself. Needle shape, color, texture, branch structure, and scent differ among the types.

Varieties typically found at local retailers are Douglas Fir, Frasier Fir, White Pine, Scotch Pine, and Colorado Blue Spruce. Virginia Pine, Eastern Red Cedar, White Pine, Leyland Cypress, and Arizona Cypress are varieties commonly found at choose-and-cut farms. Some farms offer pre-cut Frasier Firs for purchase as well.

Once you have made it home with your tree, here are a few steps to keep your tree merry and bright throughout the Christmas season.

• Make a fresh-cut removing 1/2 inch from the bottom of the trunk. This will enable the tree to absorb water more easily.

• If you aren’t quite ready to trim the tree, place it in the shade in a container of fresh water.

• For those with allergies, spraying the tree off with the garden hose is a great way to remove any residual pollen or dust.

• Make sure your tree stand holds at least a gallon of water, and check the water level daily.

• Fresh water is all your tree needs. No matter what you may have heard or read, no additives are needed.

• If your tree isn’t taking up water try drilling several holes in the trunk below the water line.

I hope these tips are helpful in decorating and celebrating one of the most wonderful times of the year!

Bethany A. O’Rear is Regional Horticulture Agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service (ACES). Bethany is available to answer your questions about conservation, agriculture, natural resources, and gardening. She can be reached at (205) 612-9524 or bethany@aces.edu.