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Thursday, Dec. 4, 2003 02:20 pm

Tips for selecting and protecting a fresh Christmas tree


A freshly cut Christmas tree can be a beautiful sight. With proper selection and care you can safely enjoy a fresh tree throughout the holidays.

Before you leave home, measure the height and width of the available space where the tree will be placed. Make sure that you don't choose a tree bigger than the dimensions you have selected (don't forget to include the height of the stand). Remember trees always seem to look smaller in the lot than in your living room. Avoid placing the tree near heat sources such as heat registers, fireplaces, or TVs. Also avoid displaying the tree in front of large windows that get lots of sunlight.

For the freshest tree, visit a local Christmas tree farm. Of course, trees may also be purchased from retail locations. If at all possible, visit a tree lot when the sun is shining. If you're tree shopping during evening hours, make sure the lot is well-lit.

Most Christmas trees are harvested in late October to mid-November. While there is no sure way to determine the freshness of a tree, here are a few hints:

• Color. Trees should be bright green. Yellow needles indicate that the tree was cut in October. Look closely at the needles to see if they have been sprayed with a colorant.

• Aroma. Grab a few needles in your hand and lightly squeeze. If it does not smell like pine, the tree may not be fresh.

• Flexibility. Grab a handful of needles and carefully bend them back. If they snap and break easily, the tree may not be fresh. When you gently shake or bump the tree lightly on the ground, only a few green needles should fall.

Conduct the tests with caution: If done incorrectly, you can damage the appearance of the tree. If the temperature is below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, needles will snap and break easily, and little evergreen scent will be evident.

Be sure to protect the tree on the drive home. Ideally, you should place the tree inside the vehicle. Because wind rushing through the tree can cause it to lose moisture, cover the tree if you're transporting it on top of your vehicle or in an open trunk. If trees are not bagged, tied or wrapped by the seller, wrap the tree in an old sheet or blanket.

If you won't be putting the tree inside right away, store it in a place out of sun, wind and freezing temperatures such as an unheated garage. Remove one inch of the trunk and place the tree in a bucket of warm water.

Indoors, remove one inch off of the bottom of the trunk and immediately place the tree into a stand that holds at least a half-gallon of water. The best way to keep your tree fresh is plain tap water; additives such as aspirin, sugar, bleach, syrup or flame-retardants are not recommended.

Water daily

A fresh Christmas tree will use one-half to two gallons of water on the first day it's inside. Afterward, the tree will soak up to a quart per day. That means, it's important to check the water level daily.

If you allow the water level to drop and the cut dries out, the sap will harden and the tree will quit taking up water. You'll need to re-cut the base of the tree. Lop off about one inch off the trunk and return the tree to the stand.

If after making a fresh cut the tree still isn't taking up water, it means it's lost moisture below a critical level and will never regain its freshness. A tree in this condition is a fire hazard and should be removed from the house.

For safety reasons, test light cords and connections before hanging them on the tree. Never use cords with cracked insulation or broken or empty sockets. Use only UL-approved lights on a tree. Lights should be turned off at bedtime or when leaving the home.


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