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posted: 11/29/2013 1:00 AM

Look for sap when choosing a fresh tree

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  • When choosing a Christmas tree, select a fresh one so it will retain its needles as long as possible. Trees that were cut many weeks or even months ago will drop their needles shortly after being brought indoors.

      When choosing a Christmas tree, select a fresh one so it will retain its needles as long as possible. Trees that were cut many weeks or even months ago will drop their needles shortly after being brought indoors.

 
By Tim Johnson
Chicago Botanic Garden

When choosing a Christmas tree, select a fresh one so it will retain its needles as long as possible. Trees that were cut many weeks or even months ago will drop their needles shortly after being brought indoors.

The bottom of the stump should be moist, with some sap present. The needles should feel firm and flexible. When you lift the tree a few inches and drop it to the ground, it should shed only a few needles.

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The kinds of trees that retain their needles longest are the balsam and white firs; red, white and Scotch pines; and Douglas fir.

Once you bring the tree home, cut about 2 inches off the end of the stump and immediately place the tree into your stand with water. Check every day to make sure the stand always is full. If the end of the stump ever gets the chance to dry out, it will form a seal that will prevent it from taking up any more water.

A freshly cut tree can take up as much as one gallon of water in a day, so you may need to refill the stand more than once a day for first few days.

Dry trees can become serious fire hazards. Keep live Christmas trees away from heat sources such as fireplaces, radiators and furnace vents.

After Christmas, your tree can be moved outside and redecorated for the birds. Anchor the tree in a bucket full of damp sand. Put on strings of popcorn and cranberries. You also can add apples, oranges, leftover bread and pine cones that have been covered with peanut butter and then rolled in birdseed. For best results, push the edible ornaments well into the tree's foliage so that they do not readily blow off.

Inspect and clean the air filter on your lawnmower regularly in the fall. Mowing over fallen leaves can kick up dust and debris that quickly plugs up the filter.

It is normal for evergreen trees and shrubs to lose some needles in the autumn. Generally, the needles will fall from the interior of the tree. As long as the needle loss is not excessive and the overall color of the remaining foliage is a normal shade of green, there is no need to worry.

Bald cypress, which looks like it should be an evergreen, actually is a deciduous conifer that is supposed to lose all its soft, needlelike leaves in fall.

• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden, chicagobotanic.org.

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