Christmas Tree Hunters: Don't Come Home With A Lemon

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Every year, millions of families continue purchasing traditional live trees. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, 56 million trees were planted in 1999 for future Christmasses, and 32 million families bought a real tree.

Perhaps the most startling element of the above paragraph is that there is such a thing as a National Christmas Tree Association.

But there is. And its sole functions, apparently, are 1) to keep track of the nation's Christmas trees and 2) to make sure that those who purchase and attempt to care for a Christmas tree know what the heck they are doing.

Here are the NCTA's year-2000 tips for all things related to the vegetation everyone likes to kill at this joyous time of year:

Buying a Christmas tree

If you are buying off a retail lot, the main thing to remember is that freshness is most important when selecting a tree. The needles should be resilient. Take hold of a branch and pull your hand toward you, allowing the branch to slip through your fingers. Most, if not all, of the needles should stay on the tree.

Lifting and dropping the tree on a hard surface should not result in a shower of green needles. Brown needles that have shed the previous year are OK to shed. The tree should have a fragrance and rich green color. Branches should be pliable and bend without much resistance.

Actually, none of this will be necessary if you purchase the tree from a tree farm that harvests as you watch. Many times you can even find a farm where you or your kids can cut the tree.

Hug your tree

Once you get the tree home there are several things you need to do to keep your tree in top shape. Be sure to check out tree care tips from the professionals to keep your tree fresh throughout the season. Here is a summary of some important points:

Cut one-quarter inch off the base of the trunk if the tree has been harvested over four hours. This fresh cut will create a free flow of water into the tree to preserve freshness.

Water, water, water; and don't let the water ever go below the fresh cut base. This will cause the base to seal.

Display your tree in a cool place but out of a draft. Fireplaces can dry your tree prematurely.

Water, water, water. Trees are very thirsty and will use up to a gallon of water each day. Check the stand each day for water.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association and Dr. Gary Chastagner, Washington State University, "Your best bet is just plain tap water. It doesn't have to be distilled water or mineral water or anything like that. So the next time someone tells you to add ketchup or something more bizarre to your tree stand, don't believe it." Most experts insist that good old water is all you need to keep your tree fresh through Christmas.

Using a living tree

People are beginning to use living plants as their tree of choice. Most living Christmas tree roots are kept in a "ball" of earth. This ball can be wrapped in burlap or set into a container or pot. The tree is used very briefly as an indoor tree but must be replanted after Christmas Day. Remember that live trees should not stay inside longer than ten days.

Several tips are:

Keep the ball moist throughout and wrap in plastic or place in a tub.

Do not remove burlap; don't remove any soil while in the house.

Limit inside stay to 7 to 10 days.

Slowly remove to the outside using garage to shed to planting site. Do not plant in frozen soil.

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