Before you purchase your tree, consider these hints from Dr. Francis Gouin, extension specialist and horticulture professor at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Sixty-four percent of all Marylanders pick up the Scots pine. These trees are generally 5 to 8 feet tall. About 10 percent of Marylanders choose a white pine, with the remainder selecting Douglas or Frazer firs, Colorado Blue Spruce or other varieties.
You can expect to spend anywhere from $20 to $35 for your tree, with a possible savings if you go to one of Maryland's "choose and cut" Christmas tree farms. For more information on these farms, consult the Maryland Department of Agriculture's "Maryland Choose and Cut Christmas Tree Directory." This guide is generally published in Maryland newspapers and is available at public libraries or the Maryland Cooperative Extension Service Offices.
If you're going to buy a pre-cut tree, go early in the season and look for the "Maryland with Pride" logo. "This indicates freshness -- none of these trees are cut before November," Gouin says.
Go to a Christmas tree lot during the day when there is ample light to properly inspect the trees. Then follow these simple guidelines.
* Check the tree's color. A gray-green or yellow shade indicates a dry tree.
* Bend and pull the pine needles. If they snap or pull off easily, the tree is sure to drop its needles once inside your house's warm interior.
* Finally, bang the base of your prospective purchase on concrete. If the exterior, new growth needles plummet, the tree is a potential tinderbox.
Now that you've picked your tree and brought it home, Gouin recommends cutting two inches off the bottom of the tree's trunk (just one inch if you cut your own tree). Immediately plunge the cut end into 80 to 100 degree (Fahrenheit) water. "This is important; a tree won't absorb cold water," Gouin warns.
If you're not taking the tree inside immediately, store it on the north side of your house (so it gets shade) and completely replace the warm water periodically. When you're ready to bring it inside, cut another one-half inch off the trunk and repeat the warm water treatment.
Place the tree away from any heat source such as radiators. Gouin recommends using a plain, galvanized tree stand because it releases zinc, a bacterial inhibitor. If you don't have a galvanized stand, add a tablespoon of bacteria-killing household bleach to each gallon of warm water.
Uncontrolled bacterial growth can clog a tree's pores, preventing it from absorbing water, Gouin says.