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Selecting and caring for a Christmas tree

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There are several ways to determine a tree’s freshness. Bend the needles. If the tree is fresh, needles will be flexible and springy. If the tree is old, needles will snap and break off. Bounce the tree’s stump on the ground to see how many needles fall. It’s normal for a fresh tree to drop some needles. But if bouncing produces a shower of needles, put the tree back and select another.

NICEVILLE, Fla — It’s important to choose a Christmas tree that’s fresh, attractive and the right size. Once you get your tree home, it’s important to care for it correctly so you can enjoy it through the holidays.

There are several ways to determine a tree’s freshness. Bend the needles. If the tree is fresh, needles will be flexible and springy. If the tree is old, needles will snap and break off. Bounce the tree’s stump on the ground to see how many needles fall. It’s normal for a fresh tree to drop some needles. But if bouncing produces a shower of needles, put the tree back and select another. Before buying, feel the bottom of the stump. Sap of a fresh tree is sticky. On an old stump, it’s hard and caked. A fresh tree should have a pleasant fragrance – one that’ll last throughout the Christmas Season.

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The tree should have a natural green color. Look close. Some older trees may be spray painted green to cover up the fact that they’re past their prime. The tree should be full and bushy and have sturdy branches.

Before buying your tree, decide where you’ll display it, so you’ll know exactly what size to purchase. Include the extra height that your Christmas tree stand will add. Attempting to correct for a tree that’s too tall for the room by removing either the top or the base will usually ruin the tree’s appearance.

Once you find a fresh tree of the right size and shape, proper care is important to carry it through the holidays.

If you buy your tree several days before you plan to set it up, store it outdoors in a cool area under shade or in a carport. Cut the stump at a diagonal about one inch above the original cut and place it in a container of water. When you bring the tree inside, saw the stump again, this time squaring off the diagonal. This creates a fresh cut that helps the tree take up water. Now place the tree in a stand that holds water.

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Keep the stand filled at all times. It’s surprising how quickly a good size tree can take up a quart of water. So check the water level at least once a day.

If possible, place the tree in the coolest part of the room. Keep it away from heat sources like fireplaces, air ducts, etc. The heat and dry air from these can cause the needles to dry and drop off quickly.

Larry Williams is the Extension horticulture agent with the Okaloosa County Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida. Contact Larry at 689-5850 or email lwilliams@myokaloosa.com.

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