My best friend since second grade always had the same ugly type of tree. It was what I'd consider a Charlie Brown Tree - widely spaced branches and short needles so the tree appeared sparse. They loved that look though. Her dad still gets that type of tree. I prefer a more compact tree - one with a conical shape. No matter what shape tree you prefer, here are a few tips to make sure you bring home a healthy tree that will look good throughout the season.
Before you leave your house, determine where in your home you will display your tree so that you will be able to tell what size and shape you need. Last year my brother had to cut about two feet off the bottom of my mom's tree. He thought he had picked the right size tree - but he hadn't. The top was bent over when they first brought the tree in (more mild cussing from my mother).
At the Christmas tree lot, do a freshness test. Hold a branch about 6 inches from the tip. Pull your hand toward the tip, allowing the branch to slip through your fingers. Very few green needles should come off in your hand if the tree is fresh.
Another freshness test is lift the tree a couple of inches off the ground, then bring it down abruptly on the stump end. Outside, green needles should not fall off in substantial numbers. Remember, inside, needles do turn brown and shed naturally every year.
Proper care of a fresh cut tree is essential, especially when you buy it this early. The most important thing to remember is that real trees need water - just like a fresh bouquet of flowers. Make a fresh cut across the base of the trunk, 1/4 inch up from the original cut. When a tree is first cut, a seal of sap occurs naturally over its stump which keeps moisture in the tree. It's important to break that seal to allow the tree to take up water needed to keep it fresh throughout the holidays.
• Until you are ready to decorate, keep your tree outdoors, standing in a bucket of water and protected from the wind and sun. This will help the tree retain its moisture.
• Keep plenty of water in your stand. A Christmas tree may absorb a gallon of water in the first 24 hours it's up and between two pints to a gallon of water a day thereafter. Check the stand daily and supply fresh water as needed. If the water supply runs out, a seal will form on the cut surface of the tree trunk and a new cut should be made.
• It is not necessary to add aspirin, sugar, bleach or any other supplement to your water. The tree prefers plain old water.
• Position your tree away from heat sources such as fireplaces, radiators and television sets. If it is near a vent, close the vent.
When Christmas is over, you don't have to waste your tree - recycle it. Place your tree in a garden or backyard for use as a winter birdfeeder and shelter. Orange slices, bread and suet will attract birds and brighten up the winter landscape.
• A Christmas tree is biodegradable. Its branches and trunk may be removed and chopped to be used as mulch in your garden.
• Sink the tree into private fish ponds or lakes, trees make excellent refuge and feeding areas for fish (Ask permission first if it's not your pond.).
• Living Christmas trees that come with their roots intact can be planted in the yard and enjoyed for years to come (if they are a variety that live here; a lot of the ones I see - like blue spruce - are not adapted for our area and will not survive the first summer.)
• Take your tree to a Christmas tree mulching event.
Following these hints will make your Christmas tree last through the season and beyond. My mother's birthday is January 6. We were never allowed to take the tree down until after her birthday. I learned these care tips a long time ago and they always work. My mother would not have allowed her tree to brown up before her birthday. She is diligent about the water in the tree stand. I think that's the key if you choose a healthy tree to start with.
Jule-Lynne Macie is the Rockdale County Extension Coordinator. She can be reached at (770)278-7373.