Garden Plot: Essential tips for picking, keeping a healthy Christmas tree

Want a really fresh tree? Take a tannenbaum trip

One good thing about Thanksgiving coming so late in the season this year is that it might slow down the rush to get that live Christmas in the house so dang early. It’s just plain unrealistic to expect a cut tree to hold it needles for the number of weeks some families strive for.

But no matter how long you hope to keep that tree inside, the best way to increase your odds of having a nearly needle-free floor is to take a trip out to a local Christmas tree farm, pick out a nice one and have them cut it for you. (They call them ‘Cut Your Own’ farms, but I’m probably the only person you’ll see at one still wielding their own saw.)

The freshness of your tree will be supreme. The trees you see hanging out on local street corners may have been cut several weeks ago and many miles away, while your tree’s clock doesn’t start ticking until your kids scream “Timber!”

Plus, local tree farms make for a really festive holiday outing. You get to have a great family fight over which one is best – or most needs a home (“Dad-eee! If we don’t take it, it’ll be all alone!”) – and then soothe away any tears with cookies and hot chocolate. You’re also supporting local farmers and helping preserve that land from becoming another crop of townhouses.

And this year’s listings of area tree farms are new, improved and even easier to use. Here’s the new one for Virginia. Just click on ‘cut your own’ on the “Locator” box on the right. And here’s the one for Maryland, where you search by county.

Why cut trees are like real estate

Whether you have a tree cut right in front of you at a local Christmas tree farm or buy your tannenbaum pre-cut from some suspicious stranger in DuPont Circle, the secret to a having a needle-free floor is hydration, hydration, hydration.

As soon as you get that tree home, use pruners to remove any low branches that would prevent the stump from reaching the bottom of the stand. Don’t remove any bark down low; that’s what sucks the water upstairs to the top. Then use a bow saw — a handy tool every homeowner should have — to cleanly cut two inches off the bottom of the trunk to remove the natural ‘seal’ that will have formed over the initial cut.

Then stand the tree up in a big bucket or tub full of water for at least a few hours before you bring it into the house. And be ready to refill that tub — a tree that was cut during a dry spell may need several gallons of water to get back to normal.

Indoor tree care: finessing the fluid

Want to have a cut tree in the house without your soft blue carpet suddenly changing into a sharp green torture track?

  • Make sure the branches bend easily on the tree you pick. Brittle branches are a sure sign that that tree is already past its prime.
  • Have a bow saw ready to cut two inches off the bottom of the trunk when you get your tree home, and have a big tub full of water to drop that cut stump into. Then watch that water line drop as you create a truly fire-proof tree.
  • If they didn’t ‘shake’ the tree for you already, have someone hold each end (wearing gloves!) and vigorously shake it to remove dead needles, fall leaves and other debris.
  • Place the tree in the coolest possible room indoors and be prepared to add as much as a gallon a day to the reservoir. Use a tape measure to gauge the diameter of the trunk. On average, a tree will need a quart of fresh water a day per inch.
  • Cool devices like “Santa’s Magic Water Spout” allow you to add that essential H2O without crawling underneath your tannenbaum.
  • Warning: Do not let that water reservoir dry out! If it does, the bottom of the tree will seal up again, and dropped needles will be your new floor covering.

Gifts for gardeners: Gloves, worms, tunnels, Cuba

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