A Christmas tree primer: simple steps to a happy holiday

Americans have been having a love affair with Christmas trees for more than 150 years.

German settlers introduced the first Christmas trees in the mid-1800s. By the early 1900s, so many trees were being cut each year that conservationists became concerned that forests would be decimated, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt tried to ban the practice. Fortunately, Christmas tree farms were introduced, and we’ve been enjoying our holiday trees ever since. Last year more than 30 million live Christmas trees were sold.

Whether you cut your own tree at a tree farm or buy it at a seasonal stand, there are several precautions that you can take to ensure that you get a fresh tree and that it lasts through the holidays. Before purchasing a tree, think about where you want to place it in your home. You’ll need to consider how tall and wide the tree you purchase can be. You’ll also want to find a location that’s away from heating vents as the direct heat will shorten the life span of your tree.

Your next consideration is whether to purchase a precut tree from a vendor or to cut your own tree at a farm. If you decide to buy a tree from a Christmas tree stand, then it’s important to examine the trees that are for sale. Run a branch through your fingers to determine if the needles fall off easily, thus indicating that the tree isn’t fresh. You can also try bending a small branch to determine if it’s still supple. If it snaps easily, then that’s another sign that the tree isn’t fresh and probably won’t last through the holidays.

If you’ve decided to cut your own tree, then you won’t have to worry about freshness and can concentrate on the pleasure of the outing and the selection of the tree. If you notice that many of the trees seem to be shedding needles, well, that’s normal in the fall. Many tree farms will shake trees for you to remove the loose needles.

Once you get your new tree home, the first consideration is whether you’re going to put it in a stand and decorate it immediately or store it for several days. In the latter case, be sure to cut a half inch slice off the bottom of the trunk so that the tree can take up the maximum amount of water. Place the tree in a bucket of water and store it in a cool place until you’re ready to use it.

If you’re going to decorate you tree right away, cut a half-inch slice off the bottom of the trunk and place the tree in a stand that will hold lots of water. When you take a freshly cut tree home half its weight is water, so keeping the tree hydrated is important. Do not cut the bottom of the tree into a V shape or remove the bark. Both practices impede the uptake of water.

And now it’s time to decorate your tree and enjoy it. Just remember to check the water level in the stand at least once daily and preferably twice to ensure that it’s always full.

Once the holidays are over, your tree can be recycled into wood chips or used in the garden as a windbreak for tender plants or as shelter for small mammals and birds.

In the meantime, relax, spend time with friends and family, and enjoy the holidays. Spring will be here before you know it.

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