Christmas trees and poinsettias

To avoid choosing a "lemon" from your favorite local Christmas tree lot, be prepared to shake those needles. That helps determine freshness. If needles fall to the ground when the tree is bounced on its stump, it isn't a good choice. You also can pull off a few needles and crush them with your fingers to make sure they're flexible, moist, sticky, and fragrant. Or grasp a branch between your thumb and forefinger and pull. Only a few needles should come off in your hand if the tree is fresh.

Here are some other tree pointers, using the collective wisdom of Purdue University tree expert Daniel Cassens and Home Depot:

• After selecting a tree, get it into a water-filled stand or bucket within five hours. Any longer may necessitate making a fresh cut on the bottom of the trunk.

• Transport the tree, bundled at the site, in the trunk of your car, instead of strapped to the top, to avoid drying it out.

• Don't shave the sides of the tree trunk or tree butt to fit the tree into the stand because that lessens its life span.

• The average tree will absorb roughly one gallon of water during the first 24 hours in a stand, and lesser amounts thereafter. Check the water level daily.

• Keep trees away from furnace registers, space heaters, fireplaces, and other heat sources.

When you're shopping for poinsettias, the University of Georgia Extension Service suggests keeping these points in mind:

• Locally grown plants cost more, but keep better.

• Select plants with fully colored and expanded "bracts" (the colored "flowers").

• Choose poinsettias with dense, rich green leaves all along the stem.

• Don't buy plants with sticky leaves and dots on the leaf undersides. These are whitefly nymphs.

• Don't buy plants with weak stems, few bracts, or signs of wilting, breaking, or drooping.

• Remove any foil or covering around the pot so that excess water doesn't accumulate in the bottom. Put the pot in a saucer to collect the water that runs through the soil.

• Place the plant in bright light and water when the soil feels dry to the touch. No fertilizer is needed.

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