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Garden Dirt | Oh Tannenbaum

Choosing and Caring for Christmas Trees:

One of the most beloved holiday family traditions is choosing and decorating a Christmas tree. The tradition dates back to the 7th century when, legend has it, an English monk traveled to German to teach the Word of God. The story goes that the monk used the triangular shape of a fir tree to illustrate the Holy Trinity. Converts began to revere the tree as God’s tree and by the 12th century it was being hung – upside down – from ceilings over Christmas in Central Europe.

The first decorated tree was in Riga, Latvia, when, in the early 16th century, Martin Luther is said to have decorate a small fir with candles to show his children how stars twinkled.

Today’s Christmas trees are an eclectic bunch, with decorations reflecting family tradition and style.
But firs still reign as the number one tree choice.

The Fraser fir is the most popular. This fir has dark green needles with excellent retention and fragrance. It was named for Scot botanist John Fraser who explored the southern Appalachians in the late 1700’s.
Another favorite is Noble fir. It grows in a more open pattern than the Fraser, but it too has a long shelf life and a nice fragrance. Its stiff branches can support heavy ornaments.

Turkish firs, which have long been popular in Europe, are gaining favor here. This tree has lovely two-tone needles with a dark silvery-green underside and is very fragrant. Its strong branches will hold heavy ornaments and good needle retention.

These tips from the National Christmas Tree Association will help you buy and care for your cut Christmas tree:

When you find a tree that you like, do a freshness test by gently grasping a branch between your thumb and forefinger and pull it toward you. Very few needles should come off in your hand if the tree is fresh. Shake or bounce the tree on its stump. You shouldn’t see an excessive amount of green needles fall to the ground. Some loss of interior brown needles is normal and will occur over the lifetime of the tree.

After you’ve chosen your tree, place it in a bucket full of water in a sheltered, unheated area, such as a porch or garage, protected from wind and sun until you are ready to decorate it. Remember to refill the water bucket as needed.

When you’re ready to bring the tree inside, make a fresh, straight cut across the base of the trunk (about 1/2 inch up from the original cut) and place the tree in a tree stand that holds at least a gallon of water. That fresh cut is essential, as this lets the tree absorb water.

Make sure your tree stand will hold enough water for the size of your tree. Measure the diameter of your tree trunk inches — that’s how many quarts of water your tree stand should be able to hold. (For example, if it measures 6 inches across, then you need 6 quarts of water.)

Keep the tree stand filled with water. A seal of dried sap will form over the cut stump in four to six hours if the water drops below the base of the tree. If a seal does form, you’ll have to make another fresh cut, which is much harder to do when the tree’s decorated.

A tree will absorb as much as a gallon of water or more in the first 24 hours and one or more quarts a day thereafter. Water is important because it prevents the needles from drying and dropping off and the boughs from drooping. Water also keeps the tree fragrant.

Keep your tree away from all heat sources, such as fireplaces, radiators, baseboard heat, portable heaters, television sets, and heat vents. Not only can all of these can make the tree dry out faster, but can also contribute to setting a tree on fire. Never burn any part of a Christmas tree in a wood stove or fireplace.

A fresh tree properly cared for should last in the house for several weeks. When the holidays have ended and it’s time to take it down, locate a Christmas tree recycling center in your area. In Calvert County, most trash compactor sites and Appeal landfill have tree recycling. In Anne Arundel County find a recycling program at: www.aacounty.org/DPW/WasteManagement/yardWaste.cfm

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