It takes more than lights to keep a Christmas tree twinkling

Here's how to pick and maintain your holiday centerpiece

In The Garden

December 08, 2002|By Kathy Van Mullekom | By Kathy Van Mullekom,Special to the Sun

The holidays sparkle with the lights of a decorated tree.

There are several things to remember when buying a just-cut or live tree and caring for it.

Follow these helpful hints to keep your tree fresh and safe during the holidays. The tips come courtesy of various sources, including the National Christmas Tree Association and the National Safety Council.

CHOOSING A TREE

* Select a tree to fit the space available in your home. Trees in the great outdoors look smaller than they do in the confined indoors. Take a tape measure to measure your chosen tree and cord to tie your tree to the car.

* If your tree will be placed in front of windows, it needs to look good on all four sides; a tree placed against a wall is OK with three good sides, while a tree with two good sides looks nice in a corner.

* Choose a fresh tree. A fresh tree is green with needles that are hard to pull from branches. Fresh needles do not break when you bend them with your fingers.

* When the trunk of a tree is bounced on the ground, a shower of falling needles indicates the tree is too dry. A few needles falling is OK because interior needles brown and drop over the lifetime of a tree.

TREE CARE

* Store your tree in a large bucket of water in a cool shady place such as a porch or garage before bringing it indoors to decorate. Saw a fresh horizontal disk about 1 inch off the base of the trunk before placing it in water. Saw a second fresh disk off the tree trunk before placing it in your decorative water-holding stand indoors.

* Make sure your tree stand holds an adequate amount of water. A good measure is one quart for every inch in diameter of the tree's trunk. The average 6-foot tree has a 4-inch diameter trunk, so it needs a tree stand that holds a gallon of water.

* Check your tree's water level often. A tree absorbs the most water after it is recently cut and placed in water. If the base dries out, resin forms over the cut end and the tree is unable to absorb water and will dry out quickly. Plain, tepid water works fine.

* If you purchase a live tree to plant outdoors, dig the hole early in case the ground freezes. Fill the hole with mulch to prevent it from freezing. Keep the tree sheltered outdoors, then move it into an unheated garage a couple of days before taking it in the house. A live tree should remain indoors no more than five to seven days. Keep the root ball moist; place it in a decorative container and put plastic under it to protect your floor. Do not remove the tree directly from a warm house into the cold outdoors; instead, move it to a sheltered area first for several days.

SAFETY TIPS

* Inspect lights for cracked sockets, frayed wires and loose connections.

* When purchasing new lights, look for the UL (Underwriters Laboratories) safety certification.

* Turn tree lights off when you leave the house or go to bed; use a timer to make this holiday chore convenient.

* Avoid overloading extension cords. Use no more than three light sets on any one extension cord. Cords should be placed against the wall to avoid tripping hazards; do not run cords under rugs.

* Keep your tree away from heat sources and traffic patterns.

* Don't burn your tree in a fireplace or wood stove. This contributes to dangerous creosote buildup.

TREE ORNAMENTS

* Purchase strands of lights that stay lighted when one bulb burns out. Test lights before placing them on the tree.

* Keep decorations such as tinsel icicles and glass ornaments out of the reach of small children and pets.

* Read directions on artificial snow and other similar products before using; these sprays can irritate your lungs if they are inhaled. For extra caution, wear a paper mask while spraying.

RECYCLE YOUR TREE

* Reuse the tree as a bird feeder in your back yard. Decorate with orange and apple slices, bread and pine cones coated in peanut butter and birdseed.

* Chip your tree for your compost pile, or place it outside on recycling day so the city or county can turn it into mulch.

* Place your tree in a back corner of your garden where birds and small wildlife can use it for shelter during winter.

Kathy Van Mullekom is a reporter with the Daily Press, a Tribune Publishing newspaper in Virginia.

What's your favorite?

Here's a refresher on the traits of the most popular tree species:

Fraser fir

By far the best-selling tree. It is known for its blue-green needles and silvery underside. Branches are strong enough for heavy ornaments. Needle retention is superior. Demand and the fact that it takes twice as long to grow as other pines make this one of the most expensive.

Balsam fir

Highly fragrant with short, soft needles. Its appearance is fluffy, with few holes. Good for ornaments because of its strong, layered branching.

Scotch pine

Its needles are stiff and prickly, branches are strong, and needle retention is good, if not quite as good as the firs. No significant fragrance.

White pine

Delicate, with soft, long needles. It has a fluffy feel, but more holes, and won't hold many ornaments.

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