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Ask the ISU Extension garden experts

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Take care of your Christmas tree

Got gardening questions? Call the Hortline at (515) 294-3108, Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., or e-mail us at hortline@iastate.edu. For more gardening information, visit us at Yard and Garden Online, www.yardandgarden.extension.iastate.edu

How can I determine that a cut Christmas tree is fresh?

The freshness of cut Christmas trees can be determined with a few simple tests. Gently run your hand over a branch. The needles on a fresh tree will be pliable. Those on a dry tree will be brittle. Another test is to lift the tree by the trunk and lightly bounce the butt on the ground. Heavy needle drop indicates a dry tree. A fresh tree will drop only a few needles.

What is the best way to store a cut Christmas tree?

If you don't intend to set up the Christmas tree immediately, place the tree in a cool, sheltered location. An unheated garage or shed is often a suitable storage site. (The sun and wind will dry out trees stored outdoors.) Put the butt of the tree in a bucket of water. Saw off 1 inch of wood at the bottom of the trunk before bringing the tree in the house. A fresh cut facilitates water uptake.

Should I add any material to the water to prolong the freshness of my Christmas tree?

Do not add molasses, sugar, soft drinks, aspirin, or commercial products to the water. Additives provide no real benefit. The keys to keeping a Christmas tree fresh are to place the tree away from any heat source (fireplace, heater, radiator, etc.) and keep the tree reservoir full of water. Check the tree reservoir at least once or twice a day. Fresh trees absorb large quantities of water (especially in the first few days). If the water level drops below the bottom of the trunk, water uptake will be drastically reduced or cease when the reservoir is refilled. A fresh, well-cared-for Christmas tree should be able to remain in the home for three to four weeks.

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