Yard and Garden: Selection and Care of Christmas Trees

December 2, 2020, 2:34 pm | Zach Clemens

AMES, Iowa -- Now that Thanksgiving is behind us and the leftover turkey and pumpkin pie is gone, thoughts turn toward Christmas and finding that perfect tree for the holidays. In this post-Thanksgiving installment of Yard and Garden, Mark Vitosh, district forester with Iowa Department of Natural Resources, gives some tips on selecting and caring for your Christmas tree.

woman looking for Christmas tree to buy at outdoor tree shop by shipskyy/stock.adobe.com.What types of Christmas trees are available?

Tree species commonly available at tree farms and commercial lots in Iowa include Scotch pine, white pine, red pine, Fraser fir, balsam fir, Canaan fir, Douglas fir, Concolor fir, white spruce and Colorado spruce.

What factors should be considered when purchasing a Christmas tree for the holidays?

A few decisions should be made before going out to buy a Christmas tree. Decide where you are going to place the tree in the home. Be sure to choose a location away from heat sources, such as a fireplace or radiator. Also, decide on the size (height and width) of the tree you want.

Christmas trees may be purchased from cut-your-own tree farms or as cut trees in commercial lots. A list of tree farms in your area can be found at the Iowa Christmas Tree Growers Association website at http://www.iowachristmastrees.com/. Carefully check trees at commercial tree lots to ensure the freshness of previously cut trees.

When looking for a tree, select one that has a straight trunk. A tree with a straight trunk will be much easier to set upright in the stand. 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.

How can I determine the freshness of a cut Christmas tree?

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.

How long can a cut Christmas tree remain in the house?

The length of time a cut Christmas tree can remain in the home is determined by the tree species, the freshness of the tree at purchase, and its placement and care in the home. In general, a fresh, well-cared-for Christmas tree should be able to remain in the home for three to six weeks. Remove the tree from the house when its needles become dry and brittle.

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

Do not add anything to the water. Molasses, sugar, soft drinks, aspirin or commercial products provide no real benefit to tree longevity. 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.

How long would it take to grow my own Christmas tree?

Growing your own tree for Christmas is a long-term commitment. The common evergreen species grown in Iowa often take seven to nine years (on average) before they are harvested as Christmas trees. Christmas tree growers spend considerable amounts of time throughout the growing season in weeding, watering, fertilizing, shearing, managing pests and other types of maintenance practices to grow the best tree possible. Because of the labor and materials involved, it is often more cost effective to purchase a Christmas tree from a local grower than trying to grow your own.

Photo credit: shipskyy/stock.adobe.com

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