DALY: Finding the perfect Christmas tree

With the Christmas season upon us, many people will be looking for a Christmas tree. The trees are available at a variety of sources and can be purchased either pre-cut or at cut-your-own tree farms. Choosing the ideal Christmas tree is a matter of preference, but here are some guidelines to follow.

Several species of trees are used as Christmas trees. The selection of trees sold in Georgia include Virginia pine, red cedar, white pine, Leyland cypress, Scotch pine, Fraser fir, spruce and several others. Spruces and firs tend to lose their needles more quickly than pines.

The obvious advantage in buying a pre-cut tree is convenience. The retailer will make a clean cut and then wrap it in plastic mesh making it easier to take home. The problem with pre-cut trees is they were cut weeks before at tree farms and are not fresh. Ask the retailer at the tree lot if the trees were delivered all at one time at the beginning of the season, or were there multiple shipments throughout the season? Additionally, cut trees lose needles and can dry out easily presenting a fire hazard. Lift the tree and bounce it on the ground. Very few needles should come off a fresh tree. When in doubt about the freshness of a tree, select another one.

A fresh cut Christmas tree retains its needles longer than the pre-cut trees. Most Christmas tree farms specialize in growing varieties that are adapted to local conditions, and can be sheared into the classical conical shape. Keep in mind that you will have to cut your own tree at a tree farm. You will need a sharp saw. Sometimes Christmas tree farms will provide saws. Remember the larger the tree the more difficult it is to bring out of the field and to transport in your vehicle.

When choosing a good tree, consider the following guidelines: Select a tree that is at least a foot shorter than the ceiling in the room where it will be displayed. If the trunk is splitting, it most likely has dried to a point where 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 to a narrow top and have enough branches for hanging ornaments. The base of the trunk should be straight and cleared of limbs six to eight inches from the bottom to allow for placement in the tree stand. The tree should have a good green appearance with few dead needles. The needles should be fresh and flexible, and should not come off if you run your hand over a branch.

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. Make a fresh cut on the base before you place it in water. Then place it into a stand that has at least a gallon of water in it, and keep the water level adequate to prevent the needles from drying out and dropping off the tree. This reduces the possibility of a fire. If the water drops below the base of the trunk, a seal of dry sap will form within a few hours and another fresh cut will need to be made at the base. The tree needs to be away from 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 with the local trash service to see if they will pick it up. There are several locations in Gwinnett County that will receive your tree for disposal.

Timothy Daly is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with Gwinnett County. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or tdaly@uga.edu.