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A guide to Christmas tree care

Thanksgiving is here and you know Christmas is around the corner! My family traditionally decorates for Christmas the weekend after Thanksgiving. It seems the commercial push is making this earlier every year but we remain steadfast in this tradition at my house. I look forward to this time of year for fun, fellowship, food, and decorations! As a traditionalist, I enjoy a real live tree in my house. There is nothing better than that smell as soon as you open the door of your home to set the mood and spread some holiday cheer.

So where do you go to get a tree? North Carolina is the second largest producer of Christmas Trees in the Nation. One of our growers supplied the White House Christmas Tree in 2018! This year however, the honor of providing the tree will go to Colorado (the tree comes from a different state every year)!

Choosing a tree can be a fun and rewarding family event. Think about where in the home the tree will go and figure out the side that best suits your needs. There are several options where you can purchase your tree. Just like the Griswold’s you can go to a farm, choose and cut your tree. During the Holidays, several local tree lots will be open where you can choose and purchase a tree. Lastly, Several non-profits do holiday fundraisers with trees or wreaths so you know your money goes to support a great cause. I picked up our wreaths this week for our Extension Master Gardener SM Volunteer fundraiser from Brookgreen Family Farm. The freshest trees are going to be from one or our North Carolina Christmas Tree farms so look for lots selling local or NC Trees.

There are several species to choose from, Fraser fir, white pine, Virginia pine, and Leyland cypress. Each tree type has its own unique smell and texture that will complete your Christmas decorating. Fraser fir is Perhaps the most popular and for good reason. It boasts good needle retention, great fragrance, strong limbs, and stays fresh for several weeks if cared for properly. White pine is another great choice. It has a softer texture, good needle retention, and more pliable limbs than Fraser fir. Virginia pine in regard to texture is in between Fraser fir and white pine. It has good needle retention and fragrance. Leyland cypress is lighter green than the other trees. It has soft flexible limbs, soft texture, and a very attractive shape. The Leyland needs more water and tends to go dry a little quicker than the others.

So, you’ve gotten your perfect tree and managed to get it home atop the family vehicle, now what? Get your tree stand ready, try to do a dry fit to make certain it will work with your tree. Use a coarse toothed saw to make a fresh cut about an inch above the original cut. Set the tree in the stand and tighten it up, leveling and securing the tree with string if necessary. Now, add hot tap water to the stand immediately. If you get your tree from a lot and they make the fresh cut for you, get it in hot water (hot from the tap, not boiling) within an hour. This will keep the sap from your fresh cut from sealing the tree’s base, allowing it to draw water into the tree. The tree will need water three to four times within the first 24 hours so make sure to keep a check on it. It is important that it doesn’t go dry because that fresh cut will seal greatly affecting the longevity of the tree. Do not use any additives in the water for your tree. Research shows that these are unnecessary and many times shorten the longevity of the tree.

Locate your tree away from heat sources, vents, fireplaces, radiators, and sunny windows. These will dry the tree out. Remember not to overload electrical circuits and turn the lights off when leaving or going to bed for the night. Enjoy your tree!

On a side note, I would like to congratulate the students that have been taking the Extension Master Gardener SM Volunteer classes! They have all passed their exams with flying colors and have moved into their internship as of Wednesday of this past week. Master Gardener Volunteers must attend roughly 40 hours of class and complete a 40-hour internship before they are fully certified volunteers. I would like to personally thank them for their hard work and determination, especially given the Covid-19 circumstances, in completing this portion of their training! They will be here and ready to help you!

If you are having an issue in your home garden or landscape, send your questions to Gene Fox, Consumer Horticulture Agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, please email at Gene at gene_fox@ncsu.edu. Learn more on Facebook at the Blacklands Area Horticulture page or visit the Extension Office located at 155 Airport Road in Washington, NC!

Gene Fox is the area consumer horticulture agent at North Carolina Cooperative Extension.