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Everyone has their own idea of the perfect Christmas tree.  While I am not a person that picks the proverbial “Charlie Brown Tree”, I have certainly felt pity on the less attractive trees on the lot in years past.  Whatever your taste, a fresh cut Christmas tree adds a certain bit of nostalgia to holiday décor but takes a keen eye to select the right tree for your home, along with some forethought and proper care to ensure quality throughout the holidays.

In you are interested in a live Christmas tree, then a farm that grows the trees on-site is by far the best place to source your holiday conifer.  Many farms allow you to fresh-cut your own tree, which provides you with the best product possible. 

Once a tree is cut from its root system, the plant begins to dry out (or desiccate) no matter how much water we provide.  Most tree species used for Christmas trees were selected for their needle holding abilities after being cut, so a typical Christmas tree will remain fresh for about 4 or 5 weeks.   Once you cut your tree on the farm, the clock is running. 

If you purchase a tree from a retail outlet that shipped them in, the tree may have been cut several weeks before, making it further along in the desiccation process.  Many folks wait to purchase their tree closer to Christmas under the assumption that it will stay fresher longer that way.  However, if you are purchasing a tree that was shipped to the retail outlet several weeks prior and was actually cut sometime before that, it may not have much life left once it reaches your living room. 

I suggest purchasing shipped trees from retail outlets sooner rather than later.  Most places receive their trees around the first of December, so right now is the prime for the greatest selection and freshest trees.  However, some retailers do receive multiple shipments during the holiday season to freshen up their selection.  So, it never hurts to ask if you aren’t finding a tree in stock that meets your needs. 

If it’s a bit too early for you to set it up in your living room, store the tree outside (away from desiccating winds) with the cut end in a bucket of water.  The cooler temperatures outdoors will slow desiccation and extend the life of your tree.  

Pay attention to the cut end of your tree as conifers have resinous sap that will accumulate around the cut.  This sap can harden and clog vascular tissue that would otherwise absorb water and slow desiccation.  Most trees will need a fresh cut when you get home to remove accumulated sap and expose new vascular tissue.

Upon bringing the tree indoors, your home’s lower relative humidity and higher temperature will greatly accelerate drying out.  Therefore, your tree will need a continuous supply of water.  This always seems to be the biggest chore, especially as gifts accumulate! 

I’ve found that a plant watering can usually does this job best, but recently ran across an interesting suggestion for use of a funnel or a funnel with a tube to target your watering around materials under the tree.  A four inch diameter tree can use up to one gallon of water per day, so plan accordingly.  Allowing your tree stand to dry out completely between watering can promote sap accumulation and hardening of your tree’s cut end, which will limit water uptake.

If you are interested in additional holiday decoration using confers, join the Vermilion County Master Gardener for their annual “Make a Holiday Wreath” workshop next Tuesday evening, December 4th in Danville.  Master Gardeners, Mary Stonecipher and Pat Sollars will teach participants how to create a beautiful wreath which will add more natural beauty to your home, look festive and fill the air with the wonderful fragrance of fresh evergreens.  For more information, or to register for this event, please visit https://go.illinois.edu/WreathWorkshop.