Andrew Westfall column sig

With holiday travel once again being severely impacted this year, and many families limiting their social gathering bubble for the holidays, some households are looking for a special way to make their home more festive during this very atypical season.

One possibility might be to decorate with a real Christmas tree this year. Artificial trees certainly have their advantages, but the experience of cutting your own tree or the fragrance a real one provides can add a great deal of festivity to any home.

If you are new to purchasing a real tree, Purdue Extension has a few excellent resources to help you out. Publications FNR-423-W (Tips for First Time Buyers of Real Christmas Trees) and FNR-422-W (Selecting an Indiana Grown Christmas Tree), which are both available for free on the web or by contacting the County Extension Office, are great places to start.

FNR-422-W highlights several of the pros and cons of different varieties of trees, noting the differences between fragrance, needle retention, and branch stiffness among other things. While these tree attributes are a matter of preference, proper tree care should be universal, especially if you are hoping to enjoy your tree from Thanksgiving until the New Year.

You can help preserve your tree by putting it up quickly after taking it home. You may have to cut a half inch off the bottom of the trunk if it has been more than 6 to 8 hours from when you cut it to when you put it in water. This is due to the exposed cells trying to heal the open wound and sealing themselves off.

You may also need to re-cut the stem if your tree runs out of water. Once you re-cut the tree and place it in the water, it will be able to absorb water again.

Your tree stand should be big enough to hold 1 quart of water for every inch of trunk diameter. This helps during the first week or two when the tree requires more water.

Use only cool water to fill your stand; additives or fertilizers are not necessary to preserve the tree once it has been cut. Also, make sure to keep your tree away from any heat sources such as fireplaces, heat vents, and even ornament lights that produce heat because it may dry the tree out faster, or become a fire hazard.

Recently, there has also been a trend of purchasing balled and bur-lapped Christmas trees with the intent of actually planting the tree the following spring. If you do this, remember to double check the tree is suitable to our area if it is being ordered from somewhere outside of Indiana.

Also, keep in mind that these trees will be very heavy and difficult to move, so make sure you have help when setting up.

Prior to setting up, keep the tree in a sheltered area out of wind, sun and freezing temperatures. The root ball will need to be kept moist, so consider wrapping in plastic. Once you are done with the tree for the season, they can be planted anytime the ground is thawed.

Remember to remove the plastic but not the burlap, and consider placing the tree in a staging area, such as a garage, for a few days prior to planting to get it acclimated to the cold.

Andrew Westfall is director of Purdue Extension White County (Ind.).

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