Donald Reed, Claesgens, Mark A. | 11/21/2007 12:59:25 AM
An annual tradition in the South is the opening of most "choose-and-cut" Christmas tree farms on the Friday following Thanksgiving.
For those who want to combine buying a tree with a memorable day for the family in the outdoors, visiting a Christmas tree farm that lets you choose and cut your own tree is a worthwhile experience, according to LSU AgCenter forestry and wildlife professor Dr. Donald Reed.
For the majority who purchase their trees at a lot, Reed offers a number of suggestions for selection and care.
"If you take the right steps after purchase and in the days leading up to Christmas, your tree will remain fresh and safe for enjoyment throughout the holidays," Reed said.
Christmas trees should be clean, healthy, well-shaped and straight near the bottom. They should have pliable needles, a strong fragrance and good color.
For a freshness test, pull on some needles to see if they stay on or fall off easily. Or shake the tree vigorously – only a few needles should drop off. Also ask the seller when the tree was cut because some northern trees are harvested in October. Some species of trees also dry out more quickly than others.
Louisiana-grown Christmas trees have the advantage of having been cut much closer to the time when the tree will be placed in the home.
The most popular tree is the Leyland cypress. It lasts several weeks, is better for people with allergies and keeps its needles longer than other Christmas trees. Your local LSU AgCenter extension office has a list of local growers.
If you buy your tree several days before it is to be decorated, Reed advises storing it outside in the shade and cutting the butt end of its trunk just above the original cut. This fresh cut opens the pores and helps the tree absorb water. Place the tree in water as soon as possible because water is crucial for keeping the tree fresh.
If several days have passed after purchase, saw the butt again, being sure to square off the base for future stability.
Keep the tree in water, and refill the container daily, keeping in mind that some trees may absorb as much as two quarts a day.
While the tree is still outside waiting to be brought in and decorated, you may want to sprinkle water on the branches and needles occasionally to help retain freshness.
For related holiday stories, click on the LSU AgCenter Web site, www.lsuagcenter.com. Also contact the county agent in your local parish LSU AgCenter office.