Whether you and the family head out to a cut-your-own tree farm, visit a local organization’s tree lot or buy from your favorite garden center, there are some points to remember as you shop:
Take a tape measure: Holiday trees can be deceiving by looking small out in the field or at the tree lot. While you may have cathedral ceilings where height does not matter, many of us have an eight- or nine-foot ceiling. Keep in mind, the tree stand and tree topper will add several more inches to the ultimate height of the tree. Thinking you will just cut off more of the bottom may leave you with an exposed trunk that is unsightly.
Making a final clean, fresh cut is important: Unless you live right next to the tree farm, making an additional final flat cut is essential. If you are doing a cut-your-own tree, it is hard to get that squared-off flat cut right out of field. If you buy your tree from your favorite lot, that cut is older and will not let the tree absorb water. This is the biggest reason to make a fresh cut, so the tree lasts in the home.
Getting the tree ready for inside the home: Having made that fresh flat cut, your tree should go directly into a bucket or container of fresh water to allow the maximum amount of water to be absorbed before placing it in the stand. If the netting is still around the tree, it should be removed so the tree branches can settle back to their normal position. This also will help you see the shape again and to decide on the “best side” to show inside. Once the tree is set up and before any ornaments are hung, immediately fill the water reservoir.
Things to avoid: Mostly that is any heat source that will cause the needles to dry prematurely. While the tree looks great next to the fireplace, that heat we so enjoy will quickly dry those evergreen needles. You also can temporarily close off nearby heat registers while the tree is up and decorated. Check the water often and never let the reservoir go dry. Once the cut end of the trunk is exposed to air and dries out, that will be the end of water uptake and the tree will not last.
Recycle after the holidays are over: You can bring your tree outside and provide birds with a place to hide out in bad weather. You can decorate your tree with suet balls, strings of popcorn and pieces of apples for a food source. If you prefer, you can cut apart the tree, and use the branches for winter mulch for perennials and groundcovers, and even hide them from the rabbits. In this case, the leftover trunk can be used next spring in the garden to grow peas, vine crops, or anything that needs a support to climb.
• Richard Hentschel is a horticulture educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. Get more garden and yard updates with This Week in the Garden videos at facebook.com/extensiondkk/videos and the Green Side Up podcast at go.illinois.edu/greensideup.