There are a variety of specimens and sizes available in real trees. In Kentucky, Christmas tree farmers typically plant white pine and Scots (or Scotch) pine. The white pine retains its needles, which have a soft, flexible texture. The trees are often sheared into a pyramidal shape, though this often makes the tree very dense, which makes it difficult to hang large ornaments.
The Scots pine's needles are shorter than those of the white pine and the color can vary from bright green to dark green to some trees that exhibit more bluish tones. The species retains its needles well and resists drying.
Douglas and Fraser firs also are popular choices at local tree lots. The Douglas has dark green or blue-green needles that are shorter and softer than pine needles. Shearing gives it a denser form than the Fraser, which is a naturally pyramid-shaped tree, with even shorter needles than the Douglas. Both trees have good needle retention and a pleasant scent.
For the freshest tree, the ideal choice is one you cut yourself from a tree farm. The Kentucky Christmas Tree Association has a list of member tree farms on its Web site, http://www.kychristmastrees.com.
Check for freshness
If buying a tree from a tree lot, there are two simple tests to check for freshness. Bend one of the tree's green needles. If the needle snaps rather than bends, the tree is dry. If the tree is a reasonable size, lift it a foot or so and thump the base of the trunk on the ground. If green needles fall out, the tree is too dry. If you see brown needles fall out, don't worry. Those are last year's needles and are naturally shed by the tree.
If you plan to cut your own tree from a local tree farm, don't be in a rush to do it early in the season. Cutting it later rather than earlier will insure that the tree stays fresh throughout the entire holiday season. However, if you plan to purchase a tree from a tree lot, it might be better to purchase that tree early for the purpose of getting it in water and out of drying weather conditions as soon as possible.
Transporting a tree from either farm or lot can expose it to drying conditions. Ask to have the tree tied with twine or placed in a sleeve of plastic netting. This will allow less surface area to be exposed to the elements during the trip.
Once you get your lot-purchased tree home, it's a good idea to cut off one or two inches from the bottom of the trunk. Place the tree in a bucket of warm water and store it away from drying sun or wind, preferably in a garage or enclosed sun porch. Gradually move the tree into the house, to minimize shock from a drastic change in temperature.
In the house, be careful to place your tree away from sources of heat such as fireplaces, stoves, heat registers or radiators. Keeping the thermostat set at a lower temperature will help to prevent the tree from drying out too quickly. Keep the tree well-watered. A fresh tree can easily drink a gallon or more of water each day, so using a tree-stand that holds at least that much water will make your job easier.
After the holiday season, remember to recycle your cut Christmas tree. Recycled trees can have many uses. Placed in an outside sheltered location with peanut buttered pine cones, and strings of popcorn and cranberries, your tree can serve as a good winter habitat for wildlife.
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They also can be used in some areas of the state as fish habitat in lakes. Putting the tree into the trash always should be the last resort.
Contact the Boyle County Extension office for more information on using live or cut trees for your family's Christmas.
Jerry Little is Boyle County extension agent for agricultural and natural resources.