It's that tree time of the year

A beautifully decorated Christmas tree, like a crackling fire on a brisk evening, adds magical warmth and welcome to the home.

Whether you prefer a cut tree or a live one that can be planted outdoors after the holidays, here are a few tips to help you choose the best tree and keep it in tiptop condition:

Cut trees

Start with the freshest tree. How do you do that? A keen eye and a sharp nose can help.

When a tree catches your eye, give it the freshness test. Look for green color, shake the tree, and inspect the limbs. The needles should not pull or shake off easily. Remove a few needles; they should be flexible, moist, sticky, and fragrant when crushed. Limbs should be strong enough to support lights and spaced evenly.

Once you've selected a tree, have the dealer cut the base of the trunk so the tree will absorb more water, prolonging its life and beauty. Then you have up to five hours to get the tree into water. Otherwise, it will be necessary to cut the bottom of the trunk again.

If possible, transport the tree home in the trunk instead of on top of the car. If you have to put it on top, cover the tree to help prevent wind or sun damage.

Before decorating, place the tree in a sturdy stand that is large enough for the size of the tree and will hold at least one gallon of water. Don't shave the sides of the trunk to make it fit into the stand, because that will lessen the tree's life span. Keep the stand filled with water at all times. The average tree will absorb roughly one gallon of water during the first 24 hours of being placed in the stand, and between two pints and one gallon per day thereafter. Water consumption is related to the diameter of the tree's trunk, not to its height, so be sure to check water levels daily, even if your tree doesn't seem that large.

Source: Home Depot

Live trees

Planting a live Christmas tree provides habitat for birds and wildlife, replenishes the air with oxygen, increases soil stability, and makes your landscape more beautiful.

This type of tree is a long-term investment, so you'll want to treat it carefully.

Think before you dig. Pines, spruces, and firs grow to be more than 50 feet tall and 20 feet wide. Make sure you have allowed enough space for the fully grown tree. Also, check to see that the species you like grows in your area. Firs, for instance, don't like hot weather.

Dig the hole before the ground freezes. Then fill the hole with straw and cover it with boards (for safety) until planting time. Store the soil that you removed from the hole in an area (a garage, for example) where it will not freeze.

Feel the soil ball when you're choosing a tree. It should be moist. Trees with frozen soil balls are more likely to die than those that have moist and unfrozen soil.

Before you rush the tree into the house and put lights on it, it needs to become acclimated to a change in temperature. First, let it spend a day or two in the garage. Do the same thing when you move the tree from the house to the yard. Keep the root ball watered but don't let it stand in water.

To ensure survival, limit the amount of time the tree spends indoors. Five to seven days is enough. Use only small lights on a live tree; large ones can generate too much heat.

When you're ready to plant, remove any burrlap from the soil ball, place the tree in its designated spot, and fill the remaining hole with the soil removed from the hole earlier. Water the tree thoroughly to sustain it through the winter.

Source: International Society of Arboriculture

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