In many homes after Thanksgiving, adults and children alike get excited to purchase that perfect Christmas tree for the holidays. The Christmas tree is a holiday tradition that began in Germany in the seventeenth century. German immigrants and Hessian soldiers hired by the British to fight the colonists during the American Revolution brought this tradition to the United States.
There are lots of choices in trees. Good quality artificial trees are time-saving, clean, safe, and attractive. Yet, for many people, even the best quality artificial tree lacks the beauty and spirit of a live or cut tree.
Container grown or balled and burlapped live trees can be used as Christmas trees during the holiday season and then planted outdoors in the home landscape. Unfortunately, planting evergreen trees in mid-winter is usually difficult and many die because of our winter weather. Small, healthy evergreens are the best choice for live Christmas trees.
Small trees are less expensive, easier to handle, and are more likely to survive. Prepare the planting site for the tree before the ground freezes in the fall. Store the soil in a warm place and spread straw and a tarp over the planting area to keep the soil from freezing. Once purchased, store the tree in a sheltered, cool location, such as a garage or porch.
Make sure the soil ball is kept moist but doesn't freeze. Timing is everything. The maximum stay indoors for an evergreen should be 7-10 days. Shortly after Christmas, remove the tree from the house and place it in a cool, protected location. Don't place the tree directly outdoors in the proposed spot. A sudden drop in temperatures can injure the tree. Plant the tree outdoors on one of those milder winter days.
A few decisions should be made before going out to buy a cut tree. Decide where you are going to place the tree in the house. Also, decide on the type (Scotch pine, white pine, Fraser fir, Douglas fir, concolor fir, white spruce, etc.) and the size (height and width) of the tree you want.
Cut Christmas trees may be purchased from cut-your-own tree farms or as cut trees in a commercial lot. Trees cut and purchased at cut-your-own tree farms are obviously fresher. Carefully check previously cut trees at a commercial lot to insure the freshness. Freshness can be determined with a few simple tests. Gently run your hand over a branch. The needles on a fresh tree will be pliable while those on a dry tree will be brittle. Another test is to lift the tree by the trunk and lightly bounce it on the ground. Heavy needle drop indicates a dry tree, while a fresh tree will drop few needles.
When looking for a tree, select one that has a straight trunk. From personal experience, it will be much easier to set it upright in the tree stand. Also check the diameter of the trunk to make sure it will fit in your stand. A tree with a bare side may be fine if you intend to place it in a corner or against a wall.
Once you get the tree home, place it in a cool, sheltered location. This site should protect the tree from sun and wind. Put the butt end of the tree in a bucket of water until you are ready to bring the tree indoors. Take it out of the bucket and saw an inch off the bottom of the trunk before bringing it into the house. This fresh cut helps with water uptake. Secure the tree in its stand and fill the reservoir with water. Check the water supply at least twice a day and add water as needed. Promptly remove the tree when it begins to dry and drop needles.
I hope you enjoy your holiday season and call our Extension office here in Cherokee if you have any questions about trees or any other topic. We have many resources and publications about a variety of topics. If we don't have information in the office, we can sure find information for you. The phone number for the Cherokee Extension office is 712-225-6196.