Time to think selection, care of Christmas trees

Johnny Morgan  |  11/15/2017 8:00:24 PM

(11/15/17) BATON ROUGE, La. — The holiday season is once again upon us, and the LSU AgCenter is stressing vigilance and safety with your Christmas tree.

AgCenter forestry specialist Niels De Hoop says one of his biggest worries is not providing enough water for the tree when it’s brought into the house.

“The first night is really critical because the tree will take up a lot of water during that first night,” he said.

Because buyers won’t know how long the tree has been on the lot before it’s bought, De Hoop recommends the “choose-and-cut” variety to be sure of the tree’s condition.

“You just never know when those trees were cut that you buy from retail stores,” he said. “If you have to buy from a store, you can do a few things to determine whether the tree is fresh.”

De Hoop said there is a freshness test to determine how fresh the tree may be.

“Gently grasp a branch and pull it toward you. If the tree is fresh, you won’t pull off many needles. If a lot of needles fall off, that’s not a tree you want to buy,” he said.

You can’t really look at a tree and know how fresh it is. The trees you buy at retail have been sprayed with a light green paint called Greenzit to make them look greener, De Hoop said.

Once you make the choice and bring the tree home, you should make a straight cut across the base of the trunk about one-quarter inch above the bottom and get the tree in water as soon as possible.

During the first few days, the tree will take up a lot of water, De Hoop said. “So make sure you monitor the tree, and don’t let the water get low.”

If the tree sits out of water for more than a day or two, you should make another cut on the base to allow the tree to take up water.

“It doesn’t take long for the tree to build a callus on the cut end of the trunk,” he said. “So even when you put water back in the stand, the tree won’t take up the water.”

De Hoop said he’s seen trees run out of water the first night (or during the first weekend in office buildings) and refuse to take up more water.

To prevent this, some people put their tree in a big bucket of water for a day or two to let it “drink up” before bringing it in the house.

It can’t be stressed enough how important it is to keep fresh water in the stand as long as the tree is up, De Hoop said. “That’s all you need, just fresh water, nothing added to the water.”

Not only will water help keep the tree looking fresh, but it also will avoid creating a fire hazard, he said.

“For this area, the Leyland cypress is the best tree,” De Hoop said. “They are the longest-lasting and are allergy-free.”

Other important tips to help you be safe this Christmas season include:

– Make sure the tree is placed away from any heat source, like a furnace, which causes the tree to dry out more quickly.

– Inspect the wires and connections on all lights before placing them on the tree.

– Keep gifts and other flammable materials away from direct contact with the tree.

– Only plug lights in if responsible individuals are at home and are keeping an eye on the tree.

– Unplug lights before you go to bed.

De Hoop says there could be a shortage of trees for some areas of the country because of a shortage in the western U.S.

As a faculty advisor in the School of Renewable Natural Resources, De Hoop oversees a Christmas tree sale by the Society of American Foresters student chapter at LSU.

“We will be selling 40 trees on campus this year,” De Hoop said. “We’ll be cutting the trees the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and we’ll begin selling the next day.”

For information on where to find a “choose-and-cut” farm in Alabama, Louisiana or Mississippi, visit the Southern Christmas Tree Association website at www.southernchristmastrees.org.

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Garden centers offer a variety of cut Christmas trees for sale. LSU AgCenter experts recommend being sure to choose a fresh tree that’s right for your location. (Photo by Rick Bogren, LSU AgCenter)

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