LSU AgCenter Offers Tips for Selection, Care of Christmas Trees

Garden centers offer a variety of cut Christmas trees for sale. LSU AgCenter experts recommend being sure to choose a fresh tree that’s right for your location. (Photo by Rick Bogren, LSU AgCenter)

Garden centers offer a variety of cut Christmas trees for sale. LSU AgCenter experts recommend being sure to choose a fresh tree that’s right for your location. (Photo by Rick Bogren, LSU AgCenter)

by Johnny Morgan, LSU AgCenter

It’s time to think about choosing this year’s Christmas tree. But before you do, the LSU AgCenter suggests a few things to consider.

First, measure the area where you will place the tree to make sure you don’t buy a tree that’s too large.

LSU AgCenter forestry specialist Niels de Hoop recommends making sure you get the freshest tree you can. As faculty advisor in the School of Renewable Natural Resources, he oversees selling Christmas trees by the Society of American Foresters student chapter at LSU.

“It’s best to get your tree from a ‘choose-and-cut’ tree farm if at all possible to ensure that it is fresh,” de Hoop said. “You just never know when those trees were cut that you buy from retail stores.”

If you have to buy from a store, you can do a few things to determine whether the tree is fresh or not.

“For customers who have to buy pre-cut trees, there is a ‘freshness test’ you can do to determine just how fresh the tree is,” de Hoop said. “Gently grasp a branch and pull it toward you. If the tree is fresh you won’t pull off many needles.”

You can also shake the tree to determine freshness. “Again, if a lot of needles fall off, that’s not a tree you want to buy,” he said.

Once you make the choice and bring the tree home, you should make a cut straight across the base of the trunk about one-quarter inch above the bottom and get it in water as soon as possible.

“During the first couple of days, the tree will take up lots of water,” de Hoop said. “So make sure you monitor the tree, and don’t let the water get low.”

If the tree does happen to sit out of water for more than a day or two, you may need to make cut on the base again to allow the tree to take up water. It doesn’t take long for the tree to build a callus on the cut end of the trunk, so even when you put water back in the stand, the tree won’t take up the water, de Hoop said.

“I have seen trees run out of water the first night (or first weekend in offices) and refuse to take up more water,” de Hoop said. “To prevent this, some people put their tree in a big bucket of water for a day or two to let it ‘drink up’ before bringing it in the house.”

It can’t be stressed enough how important it is to keep fresh water in the stand as long as the tree is up, de Hoop said. “That’s all you need, just fresh water, nothing added to the water.”

Not only will water help keep the tree looking fresh, but it also will avoid creating a fire hazard, he said.

Leyland cypress is the best tree for this area. “They are the longest-lasting and are allergy-free,” he said.

Other important tips to help you be safe include:

– Make sure the tree is placed away from any heat source, like a furnace, which causes the tree to dry out more quickly.

– Inspect the wires and connections on all lights before placing them on the tree.

– Keep gifts and other flammable materials away from direct contact with the tree.

– Only plug lights in if responsible individuals are at home and keep an eye on the tree.

– Unplug lights before you go to bed.

Christmas trees are still useful even after the holidays, de Hoop said. “Many parish governments have collection days where trees can be picked up at the curb after Christmas and made into either mulch or fish habitat or used to help slow coastal erosion.”

For information on where to find a “choose-and-cut” farm in Alabama, Louisiana or Mississippi, visit the Southern Christmas Tree Association website at www.southernchristmastrees.org.