Tips for selecting a Christmas tree
Published: Saturday, November 24, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 3:02 p.m.
When I was growing up in western Pennsylvania, our family had 5,000 Christmas trees on our farm. During shearing season in June, I detested this crop as we sought to juggle shearing trees, harvesting oats and cutting hay.
But during fall, my attitude changed. One of the things I looked forward to after Thanksgiving was helping customers select a tree for their home. For many families, the process of finding just the right tree has become one of the great traditions of the holiday season.
There are many theories as to how the evergreen came to be part of the celebration of Christmas. One holds that more than 400 years ago, Martin Luther, a great preacher in Germany, was walking home one cold December night.
In the crisp night air it seemed as though the heavens were ablaze with stars, their radiance reflecting off the frosty boughs of pine trees. Luther was so touched by this beauty that he cut down a small evergreen tree, took it home and decorated it with candles so that his family might share its beauty.
Within 50 years, the custom of bringing a tree into the house at Christmastime was well established in Germany.
When you select a tree for your home, there are several things to consider that will help ensure the safety and beauty of your tree. Before you set out, think about where you might purchase a tree. Many stores offer quality trees for sale at reasonable prices. Your family may want to go directly to the field and select a tree. The Florida Christmas Tree Association website, flchristmastrees.com, has a locator that will suggest a farm in your area.
Christmas tree prices can vary, depending on the variety of tree you select. On a lot, certain types of spruces can be very expensive, while more common varieties, such as scotch pine, tend to be more affordable. Sand pine, Virginia pine, southern red cedar and Leyland cypress are species grown commercially in Florida.
Think about the size tree you will need. Remember to add approximately eight inches for the stand plus whatever decoration you may have at the top of the tree. If your house has 8-foot ceilings, you probably will need a 5-foot tree to fit the size of the room.
As you look the tree over, check for fullness. During growth in the field, exposure to shade sometimes causes a tree to have fullness on one side while large gaps exist in the other. If you plan to put the tree in the corner of a room, it may not be important for the tree to be full on all sides.
If you purchase a tree that has been cut up north and shipped to Florida, pick the tree up and lightly thump the cut portion against the sidewalk a couple of times. If several needles fall, select another; needle drop is an indication that a tree is well on its way to drying out.
Resist the temptation to purchase your tree too early in the season. Trees purchased early tend to dry out in home environments that are dry by design. The week after Thanksgiving, but before December 15, is probably the best time to obtain a tree to insure good selection but not be so early that the tree will dry out before New Year's Day.
When you get your tree home, for trees that are not fresh cut, saw about 1 inch off the trunk. This will allow the tree to take up water. Place the tree in the stand immediately, and put water in the base or, if you are not yet ready to put the tree in the house, place it in a bucket of water. Don't let the base of the tree dry out, as a seal will form and a new cut will be necessary so that the tree can take up moisture. During the holiday season, remember to check the stand regularly to insure it continues to have water.
Finally, a few safety tips for trees:
■ Be sure light cords and connections are in good working order and use only cool-burning lights.
■ Keep the tree away from heat sources such as heat ducts, fireplaces and televisions.
■ Always unplug lights before going to bed or when you leave home.
■ Never allow natural trees to dry out.
■ Remember that trees are recyclable and dispose of your tree accordingly after the season.
■ Don't procrastinate in removing the tree once the holidays are over.
The fragrance of a live tree is a wonderful part of the holiday season. Choose trees carefully, and take extra safety precautions to insure the safety of your home at this time of year.
David Holmes is Marion County extension director. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.