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One of the highlights of the holiday season is selecting and decorating a Christmas tree. With Thanksgiving falling late this year, there is less time to prepare for Christmas, so more folks will start shopping for that perfect tree this weekend. Even if you don't decorate the tree for a few weeks, it's better to buy early and place it in a bucket of water in a cool, shady area to keep it from drying out. Before you go, determine the desired height and width of the tree. What type do you want? Did you like the tree you had last year? Are you nostalgic and want the type you had when you were a kid? If you are unsure, browse the Internet and look at different tree options. Regardless of where you go to 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 bare tree by Christmas day. Follow these tips in selecting your tree.

  • Leaves should be a healthy dark green color with a strong fragrance.
  • 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.
  • Bend the needles to see if they spring back. Needles that break indicate the tree is not fresh.
  • Tap the base of the tree on the ground. Only a few needles should fall off if the tree is fresh.
  • Check the bottom of the stump. If the tree is fresh, it should be sticky with sap.

When purchasing a tree from a retail lot, always check for freshness. Trees will vary in leaf retention based on how long the tree has been cut and how the tree was handled. The most popular trees sold on retail lots are Eastern white pine, Fraser fir, Scotch pine and Norway spruce.

Scotch pines are popular for their pyramidal shape, good needle retention and ease of decorating. Leaves (needles) are 1 to 2 inches long and are yellow-green to blue-green in color.

Balsam and Fraser firs are also popular. To identify these, look for short fragrant needles that have a silvery cast underneath. Blue and Norway spruce trees are also used because of their dense symmetrical needles. Of these, Fraser fir has the best needle retention and fragrance, whereas Norway spruce has the lowest needle retention and is less fragrant.

Caring for the tree
When you get the tree home, make a fresh cut at the stem base, removing 1 inch of the old trunk. This will remove the 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. As long as the tree is taking up water, it is relatively fire resistant.

Once you have the tree decorated and surrounded with gifts, it's sometimes difficult to water. An interesting technique I saw on the Web was to add a funnel at chest level in a hidden area of the tree and attach tubing to the funnel base that runs down the trunk and empties into the water reservoir. You'll still have to crawl in there to check the water level, but it should help save the back.

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.

Insect problems are more common when there are warm, dry falls. 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.

Local tree farms
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 because there are no transportation costs by the seller. Many of these farms also sell potted trees.

Local growers usually open the day after Thanksgiving, but call before you go. Tree varieties available at farms include sand and Virginia pines, red cedar and Leyland cypress.

According to local growers, sand pine is the No. 1 seller. The sand and Virginia pines both have a reddish brown bark and short needles 1 to 3 inches long. Red cedar and Leyland cypress have scale-like leaves characteristic of junipers.

If you need any assistance with your trees, contact the experts at Woodland Tree Service. Email joanna@woodlandtree.com or call us at (901) 309-6779.

Terran Arwood
President

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"The Woodland crew did a great job yesterday on the oak in my front yard. Most of the debris was dropped in my neighbor's yard, and they cleaned up everything very nicely. I have to say that it freaked me out a bit, watching them swinging around the top of the canopy on ropes - but they obviously know what they're doing! I (along with some neighbors) watched the entire process. Thanks for a job well done!"

Memphis, TN resident

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