Gardening in Gwinnett: Time to find that perfect tree, whether precut or cut-your-own

Christmas is fast approaching and that means many of you will be out looking for the perfect Christmas tree.

Trees are available from a variety of sources, and can be purchased as precut or at cut-your-own tree farms. Choosing a Christmas tree is a matter of taste, but here are some guidelines to follow.

There are several species of trees used as Christmas trees, and your choice is a matter of taste. The most common sold here in Georgia are Virginia pine, red cedar, white pine, Leyland cypress, Scotch pine, Carolina Sapphire and Fraser fir. The spruces and firs will lose their needles more quickly than pines.

The obvious advantage to buying a precut tree is convenience. The retailer will make a clean cut and then wrap the tree in a plastic mesh, making it easier to take home. The problem with precut trees is they were cut weeks before at nurseries. They also lose needles and can dry out easily, presenting a fire hazard.

Cutting your own Christmas tree means having a fresh tree that retains its needles longer than the precut trees, and will probably add a better evergreen scent to your home. Most Christmas tree farms specialize in growing varieties that are adapted to local conditions, and can be sheared into the classical conical variety.

Keep in mind that you will have to cut your own tree. You'll need a sharp saw, which the Christmas tree farms can sometimes provide. Once it's removed, the larger the tree, the more difficult it is to transport in your vehicle.

In choosing a good tree, consider the following guidelines: Select a tree that is at least a foot shorter than the ceiling in the room it will be displayed.

If the trunk is split in areas, it most likely has dried up to a point that it will not be able to absorb water. Look for a tree that is healthy, damage-free and well-trimmed. It should taper gently from a full bottom and have enough branches for hanging ornaments.

The tree should have a green, healthy appearance with few dead needles on it. The needles should be fresh and flexible, and should not come off if you run your hand over a branch.

For precut trees, check the tag to see when the tree was cut. The fresher the tree, the better. Lift the tree and bounce it on the ground. Very few needles should come off.

Sometimes insects and spiders can hitch a ride on the tree and come into your home. You should hose off the tree and let it dry before bringing it indoors.

Keep the tree in an unheated, sheltered area, such as a garage, until you are ready to set it up, and make a fresh cut on the base if it sits for a long period of time. Then place it into a stand that has at least a gallon of water in it.

Keep the water level adequate to prevent the needles from drying out and dropping.

If the water drops below the base, a seal of dry sap will form within a few hours and another fresh cut will need to be made on the base.

The tree needs to be out of the way of any drafts or heat sources, like fireplaces and heater vents.

Test the light cords and connections before placing them on the tree, and do not use any cords with cracked insulation or broken sockets. Unplug the lights before going to bed or leaving the house.

In disposing of the tree, check if the local trash service will pick it up.

In Gwinnett, there are several locations to drop off trees to be chipped up into mulch.

Timothy Daly is an agricultural and natural resource agent with the Gwinnett County Extension Service. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or timothy.daly@ gwinnettcounty.com.