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Christmas tree should be a welcome guest in home
Timely advice for those choosing a real Christmas tree for their homes.

Date published: 11/30/2012

MOST OF US, at one time or another, have had less than a perfect holiday experience with a live Christmas tree. Insects, needles or sap dropping on the floor or on presents are just a few complaints of opting to decorate with a live tree.

But one thing is for certain: Nothing can add to the holiday spirit like the smell of a fresh green tree in the house. With some basic care and caution, a real tree can be as safe as an artificial tree and as easy to care for as a potted plant.

First, get a tree that fits what you want it to do. If you have heavy ornaments, you will not want a white pine or a Douglas or Fraser fir. These varieties have weak limbs and are better suited for smaller ornaments, garlands, small lights and tinsel.

Heavy ornaments are better suited for Virginia pine, Scotch pine and blue spruce. If you desire a very "smelly" tree with a strong pine scent, then you will want a Douglas fir, balsam fir or Virginia pine.

Should your preference be watching your dollars, the Scotch pine is usually the champ of affordability. All in all, the Scotch pine appears to be the best due to its good qualities such as branch strength, needle holding capability and cost. This is probably why most Christmas tree farms raise and sell more Scotch pines than any other.

Before choosing any real tree, inspect it for insects, insect egg masses or cocoons. Often these cocoons can be removed by simply pulling them off before the tree gets close to the house.

Don't purchase a tree that smells musty or has lost a lot of needles. To remove loose needles, shake the tree well or have the seller mechanically shake the tree before wrapping it for the ride home. This wrapping will prevent the loss of needles along the way.

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Mike Broaddus is a Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent in the Caroline and King George Office, specializing in agronomy. Reach him at 804/633-6550 (Caroline) or 540/775-3062 (King George); email broad dus@vt.edu.