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The secret to keeping your Christmas tree looking great: a little planning and a lot of water By William G. Tyson, Adam Speir

Whether you cut your tree down in the woods behind your house or buy a pre-bagged fir from the hardware store, a fresh Christmas tree helps fill the house with the spirit of the holidays.

Bringing an evergreen into the house and decorating it during winter is a tradition that dates back 500 years.

You might have to vacuum up some needles, but the look, fragrance and tradition of a live tree cannot be matched by artificial substitutes. Getting the most out of your investment in a fresh tree is easy with a few tips from University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

How to pick the perfect tree:

Whether you’re headed to a big box store or a tree farm, it’s important to measure the ceiling height of the room where the Christmas tree will be displayed. Nothing’s worse than having to whack a few inches off a gorgeous tree just to get it into the house.

The tree should be at least a foot shorter than the ceiling height to account for the stand and the tree topper.

It’s hard to tell exactly how long precut trees have been cut and how long they’ll last after purchase. To do a freshness test, hold a branch about 6 inches from the top of the tree. Allow the branch to slip through your fingers. If the tree is fresh, very few green needles should come off.  

Another test involves lifting the standing tree a couple of inches off the ground, then abruptly setting it down on its stump. The outside green needles should not fall off. Remember, inside needles turn brown and shed naturally.

Some trees retain more needles differently. A Leyland cypress, for example, does not lose as many needles as a fir or spruce.

It’s also important to inspect the base of the tree. A good tree will have straight trunk of 6 to 8 inches. Having this much trunk will make it easier to install the tree in the tree base, and will make for a more secure tree.

How to keep your tree healthy and safe:

When you get home with your tree, check the cut on the end of the stump. Trees have the ability to seal off a cut with sap to prevent losing moisture. This would also prevent the tree from taking up water in a tree stand. 

Make a fresh cut about a quarter-inch up from the original cut. Place the tree in the tree stand. If the tree won’t be decorated for a few days, leave it outside in a bucket of water in a spot out of the sun and wind. 

Once the tree is inside, be careful not to place it near a fireplace, heater vent or other heat sources.

 Check the stand regularly and make sure the water level never falls below the base of the tree. Without water, the base of the tree will seal over and prevent the tree from taking up additional water, which means it will need to be taken down and recut.

There is no need to add special products to the tree’s water. Just give it a gallon of water the first 24 hours and another 2 pints to a gallon the next day. You can count on supplying the tree with another 2 pints to a gallon of water every day.

While a well-hydrated tree will be a safe tree, it’s still important to turn off your tree lights before going to sleep or leaving the house. Use only Underwriters Laboratories (UL)-approved lights and nonflammable decorations.

When the holiday season comes to an end, recycle your tree. Recycling options include taking the tree to a location that grinds trees into mulch or creating a fish attractor by weighting the base of the tree and sinking it in a pond or lake.

Do not burn your tree unless you obtain a permit to do so. This year’s drought has already caused several wildfires around Georgia and the Southeast. Burning your tree could be potentially dangerous during this drought.

For more tips on how to keep the holidays healthy and happy, visit extension.uga.edu

(William Tyson is the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension coordinator for Effingham County.)

(Robert Adam Speir is the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension agent in Madison County.)

Freshly cut trees
Freshly cut trees

Freshly cut Christmas trees lined up for purchase at the Lowe's Home Improvement store in Griffin, Ga.

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Freshly cut Christmas trees lined up for purchase at the Lowe's Home Improvement store in Griffin, Ga. Download Image
Christmas tree
Christmas tree

What may look like an ordinary live Christmas tree to many people can turn into a sneezing fest for allergy sufferers. And with their dust and mold, fake trees can be just as bad.

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