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Timely advice for those choosing a real Christmas tree for their homes.
Now that you've gotten the tree home, what do you do with it? For live trees with a root ball attached, move the tree indoors, but avoid a large change in temperature. Do not move a live tree, one that has been cut or still has the root ball attached, from out of the freezing outdoors directly inside where it is very warm. This can cause the tree to go into a kind of "shock" and start dropping its needles. To prevent this, transition the move by letting it spend a day or two in the garage or cool basement before moving it inside.
Get the tree in water as soon as possible, whether the tree is to spend time in the garage or not. This is obvious for live trees with roots. For cut trees, it's recommended to cut the trunk approximately 1-2 inches above the initial cut. This removes any dried sap that may be clogging the xylem tubes that carry water to the limbs. After this, the tree can then be put in its stand and water added.
Keep track of the tree's water supply. Most cut trees can drink up to a gallon of water a day for several days after severing it from its root system. Myths about adding aspirin, sugar or corn syrup to the water in the tree stand are just that--myths. There is no research suggesting that this does anything to prolong the fresh green look of the tree and prevent needle loss. You'll just make a mess.
It's true that many holiday fires are caused by poor placement of the Christmas tree. Do not place a live tree, or any other flammable decorations, near an open flame or heat source. This includes electric baseboard heaters, propane heaters, ductwork, gas logs, kerosene heaters or ovens. Flameless heaters may seem harmless, but can prematurely dry the tree out to the point that it becomes easily ignitable. Also, if lights are used, use cooler burning lights made for live trees.
A live cut tree should never stay in the house more than two weeks. Live trees with live root balls that will be transplanted later in the yard can be kept longer, but keep the soil moist.
When the tree comes down, there are many things you can do with it. Rather than just take it to the landfill, you may learn of a fire department that will chip and grind it for free, encouraging homeowners to use or donate the mulch.
Many fish pond owners will toss old Christmas trees into a pond to give young fish a place to hide from larger fish and a place to wait for bugs to fall in. Sportsmen might place the dead tree around the edge of fields for wild rabbit habitat. Either way, the matter that makes up the tree will eventually be returned to the soil from which it came.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.