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Choosing the perfect tree

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

There are only a few steps in selecting the “perfect” Christmas tree, said a University of Illinois Extension educator.

“Choose a spot in your home to place the tree before heading out to buy it,” said Ron Wolford. “Ask yourself, will the tree be seen from all sides, or will some of it be against a wall?”

If the tree is displayed in front of a large window, then all four sides should look as good as possible. If the tree is displayed against a wall, then a tree with three good sides would be OK. A tree with two good sides would work well in a corner.

Choose a spot away from heat sources like televisions, fireplaces, radiators, heaters and air vents. A dried-out tree is a fire hazard. Also make sure it will be clear of doors. Use a tape measure to measure the height and width of the space in the room where the tree will be placed. Take the tape measure with you to measure your chosen tree and make sure it will fit.

If buying from a retail lot, Wolford recommends going during the day.

“Choosing a tree in daylight is a much easier experience than trying to pick out a tree in a dimly lit lot,” he said.

Do some research on different Christmas tree varieties. Some varieties hold needles longer or have a longer-lasting fragrance than others. Some tree varieties have stiff branches and a more open habit, making them more suitable for large ornaments.

A fresh tree will have a healthy green appearance with few browning needles. Needles should be flexible and not fall off if you run a branch through your hand. Raise the tree a few inches off the ground and drop it on the butt end. Very few green needles should drop off the tree; it is normal for a few inner brown needles to drop, Wolford said.

Make sure the handle or base of the tree is straight and 6 to 9 inches long so it will fit easily into your stand.

Buy trees early, before the best trees have been sold. Ask the retailer whether trees are delivered once at the beginning of the season or if they are delivered at different times during the selling season. If you are not putting the tree up right away, store it in an unheated garage or some other area out of the wind and freezing temperatures.

“Make a fresh, 1-inch cut on the butt end and place the tree in a bucket of warm water,” Wolford said. “When you decide to bring the tree indoors, make another fresh 1-inch cut and place the tree in a sturdy stand that holds at least one gallon of water. (There should be) one quart of water for every inch of diameter of the trunk.”

Be sure to keep the water level above the base of the tree. If the base dries out, resin will form over the cut end and the tree will not be able to absorb water and will dry out quickly. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, drilling a hole in the base of the trunk does not improve water uptake.

Commercially prepared mixes, aspirin, sugar, or other additives added to the water are not necessary. Research has shown that plain water will keep a tree fresh, Wolford said.

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