Question: Growing up we always had a “real” tree at Christmas, so after several years of artificial trees, we’re going to try a live one this year. Before we head out to purchase one, what type of tree should I look for, where is the best place to find one, and how long can I expect the tree to last in my house? I’d like to put it on a closed in porch; would that be OK?
Answer: There’s nothing quite like the aroma of a healthy, freshly cut tree mingling with holiday aromas. On a chilly day, a sniff of cinnamon-scented cider, cookies baking in the oven, and a whiff of tangy pine or spruce make us feel holiday-ish.
By the way, for some folks Christmas trees are not part of their tradition. For others, an artificial tree is appropriate. And that’s OK, but if you want to make a live tree part of your holidays, keep reading.
Most information about live or “real” trees intended for Christmas falls into 3 categories: tree choices, tree maintenance, and tree disposal. Choosing a tree can be an emotional experience for some, for others it’s about supporting a scout troop or philanthropic organization. Regardless of where your tree is purchased, there are a couple of guidelines to improve the likelihood that “live” will be your choice next year as well.
Whether you bring home a cedar, fir, cypress, pine, or spruce there are advantages to each. Some are more fragrant than others; the volatile oil in Eastern Red Cedars is a natural insecticide, the reason for storing wool clothing in cedar chests. Some have longer needles (leaves) than others, allowing more room to hang ornaments or icicles. As important as type of tree is the health of a tree. If bumping the tree firmly on the ground results in a shower of brown or green needles, walk away! Your tree should be cut recently enough to last 4-6 weeks indoors with adequate water.... which leads to tree maintenance issues.
The one mantra for keeping Christmas trees healthy is water, water, water. A fairly good-sized tree can drink a gallon of water a day, and if the water level drops below the base of your tree, needles can start dropping within hours. Lower indoor temperatures are better for the tree so your porch idea is ideal, though not everyone has this option. If your home is kept on the warm side, don’t stand the tree near a fireplace or other heat source. Not only could there be a fire hazard, but the tree will dry out faster. Remember these trees were growing in cooler temperatures than the average indoor temperature – trees don’t pack up and go to Florida during winter!
Disposing of your Christmas tree in a wood burning indoor fireplace is not recommended. The intense heat and potential for sparks to create indoor fireworks is not the way to start a new year. Other options are more environmentally friendly, and if you or a neighbor like to fish, create additional post-holiday cheer. Here’s how: anchor discarded Christmas trees in a good location for fish, which will use trees for cover and places to lay eggs. Good fish habitat, in other words. Or, bird watchers might string the trees with orange slices, bread, cranberries, pine cones with peanut butter and other bird-friendly treats. Set the tree in a sunny location sheltered from wind and you’ll have visitors that won’t spill cider on your sofa!
Live Christmas trees do have a life after the holidays, so enjoy them, decorate and share them, and then recycle them to enhance the habitats of other living creatures.
written by Sallie Lee of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture & Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.
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