11/30/2012 10:00:00 PM Get the freshest Christmas tree - and keep it fresh
Ken Lain The Mountain Gardener
The fresh-cut trees have arrived and they're almost too fresh this year! I say that because a tree's freshness is determined by its weight, which comes from the water content of the tree; therefore, the fresher the tree the heavier it is. A truly fresh tree should be so heavy that it is difficult to lift and maneuver. A tree's weight is the secret to finding the freshest tree on the lot.
Now, to deal with just one tree and get it home for the holidays is no big deal; even a 12-foot tall tree can be manipulated successfully with a minimum of grunts and groans. However, owning the largest Christmas tree lot in town and unloading hundreds and hundreds of trees: "Oh, my aching back!" This is why Watters invested in a fancy tree-wrapping machine that bundles even huge trees. Bundled trees are easier for the staff to help customers tie to the tops of their vehicles and bundled trees are easier for customers to move into their living rooms.
Three factors play important roles in how long a tree will maintain its freshness: the moisture in the tree itself, placement of the tree in your home, and the local weather. If a couple of good moist storms roll through the area while the tree is set up, the extra moisture keeps the trees from drying out too quickly. Of course, there's nothing we can do about the weather, but we can control the other two factors that will extend the enjoyment of our Christmas trees. These tips also apply to fresh garlands and wreaths.
Tip 1: A needle from a fresh tree should have good color, emit a strong fragrance, and bend rather than break. To test the tree of your choice simply grasp a needle between your thumb and forefinger and bend it.
Tip 2: A fresh tree should have good weight, an indication that the tree has plenty of moisture left in its trunk and limbs. The larger the trunk, the more moisture the tree can retain; just make sure the trunk isn't too large for your tree stand. This might be the year to upgrade your stand.
Tip 3: Make a fresh cut across the base of the trunk and immediately place it in a large container of lukewarm water. If the water level is allowed to drop below the cut, a seal will form reducing water uptake, so check the water level often.
Tip 4: Add liquid 'tree preservative' to you tree stand's water basin. An additive keeps the tree pores open and allows water uptake deeper into the tree. Stay away from adding sugar or carbonated drinks to the water; they simply clog the tree's system and reduce water absorption. Trees can drink over a pint of water each day, so check the water level daily and supply fresh warm water as needed. All the more reasons for a tree stand that holds a gallon or more of water. A good stand should easily hold a tree straight up without special tie downs and hold 1 1/2 gallons of water. Again, this may be the year to upgrade your stand.
Tip 5: Place the tree away from south-facing windows, close or remove heat sources blowing directly onto the tree, and keep it away from a fireplace or stove. All of these sources of warmth can zap moisture from the tree in a matter of days.
Tip 6: 'Wilt Stop' is my choice to guarantee that a tree will last through the New Year. This clear spray coats the needles with a festive sheen that prevents the tree from perspiring, so it maintains its freshness longer. If you have worried about your tree being a fire hazard, and you should, I highly recommend this added step. Our family tree will be an eight food Nordman Fir that will be sprayed with Wilt Stop. It provides peace of mind and reduces needle cleanup after the celebrating is over. And, yes, Wilt Stop has the same effect on fresh wreaths and garlands.
Tip 7: When setting up your tree, use the largest 'Christmas tree bag' you can find. This gigantic white trash bag is placed under the tree and can even be used as the tree skirt. When ready to take down the tree, pull this huge plastic bag over the tree so that it is swallowed up, preventing needles from invading your rugs and upholstery. On the top of my list of dreaded household jobs is vacuuming tree needles out of the carpet. A Christmas tree bag eases this headache so much that it's easily worth the expense of the bag!
Insider Tip for a Living Tree: When using a living tree indoors for Christmas, then planting it after the holiday season, remember to water it with a tray of ice cubes once per day. Use a deep plastic saucer under the grower's pot to keep water from seeping though the roots, out of the pot, and staining the floor.
Until next week, I'll see you amongst the Christmas trees.
Throughout the week, Ken Lain is at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road, Prescott, and can be contacted through www.wattersonline.com.