Greg Bowman

Greg Bowman is the Gordon County Extension Agent.

I am in my late 40s so many of my generation grew up having a real tree in the home for the holidays. Today, it is more divided, with some families still having a real tree while other will decorate an artificial tree each year. In my youth, some years we would select and cut a cedar tree on the family farm or would purchase a tree from a store or tree farm.

The last few years, my wife and I plus our daughters have enjoyed putting a real tree up in the home. We have found Christmas tree farms and took the time to walk the farm to select the just right tree while we also have experienced great luck with a pre-cut tree. Bringing a tree into the home for Christmas decorating has been around for more than 500 years. The most common tree types on the market are the pine, fir, spruce and cedar/cypress trees.

Today, I will be sharing information from a UGA leaflet by Dave Moorhead with tips on Christmas tree selection and care.

For starters, more than 30 million trees are selected and used annually in homes to decorate for the holidays. You will find Christmas tree farms across the United States and Canada. It can take years to grow a Christmas tree, so Moorhead states for each tree that is harvested, two or three seedlings are planted. Just like anything else, the type of tree you select for the home is up to personal preference.

Just like some families plant the same variety of tomatoes in the garden each year, some people like the same type of tree for the home. I would say if you have not purchased a live tree in a while, shop around till you see a variety you like before buying for the home.

There are some important tips to keep in mind when selecting your tree. Do not leave the house until you know the ceiling height of the room you plan on placing the tree. There is nothing worse than getting home and realizing the tree is too tall for the room. Choose a tree that is at least one foot shorter than the ceiling height. Next, run your finger over the branch along the needles. The needles should not break or fall off. You need to shake or bounce the tree to make sure needles are firmly attached. A fresh tree will have few needles fall off. Keep in mind that some needle loss inside the tree is common.

It is also suggested to stay away from trees with a wilted appearance. You need to look at the handle of the tree and make sure it is straight. The handle will be the trunk area below the foliage down to the base of the tree. You need the handle to be 6-8 inches long to allow for placing in the tree stand. Give the tree an inspection for insect and dead needles. Have the dead needles shaken or blown out before buying if this is an option.

Most folks will have an idea on when they plan on putting the tree up prior to making the purchase. You may buy the tree knowing it will be a few days before you bring into the house. If this is the case, you need to cut one inch off of the tree trunk base, put the tree in a bucket of water and stand the tree in a shady spot. When you bring the tree inside, you need to cut a half-inch to 1 inch off the base of the trunk and place the tree in a stand that will hold at least a gallon of water. When selecting the spot for the tree in the home, do not place the tree close to fireplaces, heater vents or other sources of heat.

Keep in mind that monitoring water levels and keeping the tree supplied with water is very important. A tree can take up several quarts of water a day. In our home, I normally will check the water level in the stand in the morning and in the evening. It can be a chore to get on the floor to check the water level, but it is a lot better than letting the water level get lower than the base of the tree. If you allow this to happen the cut end can seal over and will stop water uptake. You then must take the tree down for you to make a fresh cut to allow the uptake of water to start again. This would not be fun to take down a fully decorated tree. I remember as a young agent hearing clients ask about adding substances such as aspirin, soda water, bleach or sugar for example to the water in the tree stand. This is no more effective than adding plain water in keeping the tree fresh. So, just add the fresh water only.

Keeping the tree supplied with water will not only help keep the tree fresh, but will help keep the tree fire resistant. Just make sure you do not let the water level go below the tree base. It is suggested to never leave home or go to bed with the Christmas tree lights on. You should also use only UL-approved lights and nonflammable decorations. Some trees may have been sprayed with an anti-transpirant or with an approved treatment to reduced flammability. You would have to ask those questions when you purchase the tree. Keep in mind that as long as a tree is taking up water it can be relatively considered fire resistant.

For more information, contact UGA Extension-Gordon County or email Extension Agent Greg Bowman at gbowman@uga.edu.