How to choose, care for live Christmas trees

The Christmas holiday season is upon us, and many people will be out looking for a Christmas tree for their home. The trees are available at a variety of sources, and can be purchased as either pre-cut 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, fraser fir and several others. The spruces and firs will lose their needles more quickly than pines.

In choosing a good tree, consider the following guidelines: Select a tree 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 has enough branches for hanging ornaments. The base of the trunk should be straight and 6-8 inches along to allow placement in the tree stand. 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 pre-cut trees, check the tag to see when the tree was cut since 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 and reducing the possibility of a fire. 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 any drafts and heat sources such as 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 tree that will be chipped up into mulch.

Timothy Daly, MS 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.