Thanksgiving came early this year, leaving families with more time to shop for the perfect Christmas tree. Lots are already up and running all around the region.

 

Even if you don’t decorate the tree for a few weeks, purchase the tree now and place it in a bucket of water in a cool, shady area to keep it from drying out. If you are buying one from a cut tree lot, find a lot that places their cut trees in a bucket of water to keep them fresher.

Before shopping, measure the space in your home to determine the desired height and width of the tree. What type do you want? If you are unsure, browse the internet and look at different tree options. Regardless of where you get your tree, here are a few tips on selecting a Christmas tree and how to care for it once you bring it into your home.

SELECTING A TREE

The main goal is to select a tree that is fresh so you don’t end up with a tree with bare branches on Christmas day. Trees will vary in leaf retention based on how long the tree has been cut and how the tree was handled. To help you select a fresh tree, follow these tips.

• Leaves should be a healthy dark green color with a strong fragrance. Some trees do not have fragrance, so keep this in mind when shopping.

• Take a branch between your thumb and forefinger 6 to 8 inches in from the branch tip and gently run your hand out toward the branch tip. A few needles may fall off but the majority should stay intact.

• Lift the tree a few inches off the ground and drop it on its base. Only a few green needles should fall off if the tree is fresh. Don’t worry about some of the brown needles that drop from the interior of the tree.

• Make sure the base of the tree (bottom 8 inches) is straight so you don’t encounter problems with the tree stand during set up.

So which trees are the top sellers? Frasier fir is one of the most popular because of its dark green needles, excellent needle retention and piney fragrance. Others include balsam fir, Douglas fir, Noble fir, Scotch pine, white pine, Colorado blue spruce, white fir, Leyland cypress, Eastern red cedar and Virginia pine.

CARING FOR THE TREE

When you get the tree home or just before you leave the lot, make a fresh cut at the stem base, removing 1 inch of the old trunk. This will remove built-up pitch and allow the tree to take up water more easily. Then, immediately place the tree in a bucket or in a tree stand with ample water. Check the water daily because the tree can absorb up to a gallon of water on the first day. Don’t allow the tree to dry out or a new seal will form on the cut surface and then it will no longer take up water. As long as the tree is taking up water, it is relatively fire-resistant.

Place the tree in a cool spot away from heat sources such as fireplaces or heating vents. Don’t place the tree next to television sets or candles. Check all tree lights carefully for loose connections or worn wires and avoid overloading circuits.

We sometimes get phone calls about trees with insects and the callers are convinced the tree has ticks. Ticks are not a common pest on Christmas trees, but cinara aphids are and they look a lot like ticks. The insects are well disguised within the tree and, upon entering a warm home, begin reproducing. If you are concerned about insects, shake the tree vigorously and hose it down with water or spray with an insecticidal soap before bringing it into the home. If insects become a problem inside the home, vacuum them but don’t use a roller attachment or squash them because the aphids will stain walls and carpets.

SHOP LOCAL

One way to ensure that you get a fresh tree is to take the family to select and cut a tree from a local Christmas tree farm. This is a great way to support local farmers and save money on your tree purchase due to no transportation costs by the seller. Many of these farms also sell potted trees. Options include sand and spruce pines, red cedar, Arizona cypress, Carolina sapphire, Murray cypress, and Leyland cypress. According to local growers, sand pine is the number-one seller. The sand and Virginia pines both have a reddish brown bark and short needles 1-3 inches long. Spruce pine has a spruce-like appearance with short needles and silvery-brown bark. Red cedar, Arizona cypress, Murray cypress and Leyland cypress have scale-like leaves characteristic of junipers. Carolina zapphire has blue-gray lacy foliage that is very aromatic.

To get more value for your investment, consider purchasing and decorating a container-grown tree that can later be planted in your landscape. One of my favorites is the Arizona cypress, which has a natural pyramidal Christmas tree shape. Maturing at 45 feet tall by 30 feet wide, this tree makes an excellent specimen plant with its fragrant blue-green scale-type leaves. In the landscape, select an area with full sun, well-drained soil and good air circulation. Once established, Arizona cypress is fairly drought-tolerant and is a good substitute for Leyland cypress, which is often plagued with disease problems.

Terry Brite DelValle is a horticulture extension agent with the Duval County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS.