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Selecting & Caring for a Real Christmas Tree

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October 18, 2019

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today we're talking about selecting and caring for a real Christmas tree. Hello, I'm Amy Myers, and welcome to Farm and Family. Today we're speaking with John Kushla, Mississippi State University Extension Forestry Specialist.

John, what is a real Christmas tree versus a faux Christmas tree, and where do you find these real trees?

John Kushla: Amy, a real Christmas tree is one specifically grown for decorating during the holiday. All our growers in Mississippi operate choose-and-cut farms. Because of our warm climate, the species grown here dry out quickly when not in water. Since freshness is critical in a real tree, you are guaranteed that from a choose-and-cut farm, and you could find the nearest farm to you online at www.southernchristmastrees, one word, .org.

Amy Myers: That's good to know, and what are the varieties of Christmas trees grown in Mississippi?

John Kushla: Leyland cypress is our most common. It has excellent needle retention when watered and it is non-aromatic, if you have allergies. Arizona cypress and Eastern red cedar, all these trees have tiny flat needles and they are aromatic, but their needle retention is generally only two to three weeks, so you'd want to buy them after Thanksgiving. Virginia Pine has excellent needle retention, sturdy limbs, and is also aromatic. This tree tends to have a full crown. Some growers are starting to plant giant arborvitae and Mexican cypress on a trial basis, and be looking for these species in the years ahead.

Amy Myers: Are there other choices of Christmas trees?

John Kushla: Yes. Many growers and other vendors will sell precut trees imported from states further north. When looking at these trees, needles should be green and persistent, and branches should be flexible. Fraser fir is the premiere Christmas tree from the Southern Appalachians. It is aromatic and has firm, well-spaced branches, soft needles with excellent needle retention if kept watered. Colorado blue spruce has firm, well-spaced branches, but the needles are sharp. Scots pine has aromatic and firm branches and persistent needles even when dry, and white pine has very good needle retention, but the tree tends to be very full.

Amy Myers: And how should a real tree be installed in the home?

John Kushla: Once a tree is cut it's going to begin drying out, so you want to keep it in water as soon as it's cut and when you get home. Keeping the tree watered and cool will slow the drying. You want to buy a tree with extra stem length because when you get home you're going to want to cut at least one inch off the base, a little more if it's been a precut tree, perpendicular to the stem and put it in water immediately.

You want to use the proper size stand for the tree. You're going to need to have one quart of water per inch of trunk diameter. Check the water level regularly, frequently the first day and thereafter at least once a day, and a real tree taking up water is less fire prone than an artificial tree.

Amy Myers: And what other consideration should people give their real tree?

John Kushla: Keep the room a little cooler and the tree away from direct sun or sources of heat. Use the miniature or LED lights, which release less heat. Of course, discard light sets that have cracked or frayed wires and do not overload plugs or circuits. Always unplug lights when going to bed or going out for the evening. Once a tree is dried out, it should be taken down and recycled or put out for the trash because real Christmas trees are resinous. You don't want to burn them in the fireplace or wood stove.

Amy Myers: So, tell me some parting thoughts that you have as far as selecting and caring for our real Christmas trees.

John Kushla: Freshness is critical in a real Christmas tree. Needles should be green and persistent and branches flexible. Keep your real Christmas tree in water, decorate with the LED or mini lights, recycle or discard the tree once it has dried out, and enjoy a wonderful and blessed holiday season.

Amy Myers: Thank you so much. Today we've been speaking with Dr. John Kushla, Mississippi State University Extension Forestry Specialist. I'm Amy Myers and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

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