Extension Educator, Local Food Systems and Small Farms
Extension Educator, Horticulture
November 19, 2008
For many families, the Christmas Tree is the main symbol of the holidays. Several have gone to the artificial trees for convenience, allergies, or other reasons, but many still prefer to get "the real thing" for their symbol. Here are some helpful hints to make your purchase and then keep your tree safely through the holiday season.
Freshness is the key to having an enduring symbol of the holidays. Freshness is directly related to the moisture content in the needles. Once the tree is cut, its life functions quit. However, it will continue to function much like a wick as it absorbs moisture through the stem if placed in water. If adequate water is not available for the tree, the moisture content of the needles (moisture is lost by transpiration in your house) drops by about 35 – 50%. Trees that drop below 85% moisture will not regain their freshness.
When identifying a fresh tree, one obvious way is to cut your own (or observe it being cut). Many families make a ritual out of selecting their own tree, and you know that it is fresh that way. If you buy from a "lot" you need to buy from a reliable dealer that can give information on how long the trees have been cut. You then need to determine freshness for yourself.
Fresh trees have needles that are needles that are relatively supple and firmly attached to the twigs. All trees will have brown needles that will fall, but the green ones are the ones that count! If the green needles tend to snap when bent between your fingers the tree is probably quite dry. If temperatures are low (around zero), then all needles will snap since they are brittle. Fresh trees will have a fragrance to them. They also will have a waxy, natural green appearance, but some trees are sprayed with a needle colorant to make them greener.
When caring for your freshly cut tree, start with trying to avoid hauling the tree over a long distance where it will be exposed to the wind. Air moving across the needles is what actually dries them out. If you purchase your tree from a sales lot, buying the tree early will help insure better freshness and selection. You can then take the tree home and give it the proper attention.
Once you get the tree home, you should make a fresh cut on the trunk of the tree, place it immediately in water, and store it in a cool place (like your garage). Avoid putting the tree on the ground since it could freeze in place and be difficult to move. The cut you make at home is important. You should make a straight cut to make it easier on you and the tree will take up just as much water as if you made an angled cut.
Water is then the rule! Make sure your stand will hold enough water for your tree. A fresh tree may use up to two quarts of water the first 24 hours, and up to a quart a day for the first week. You also have to have the water level above the cut surface of the trunk to keep your tree fresh.
When you locate your tree, make sure it is not by a fireplace, furnace outlet, or other heat source as they will dry it out. Closing a heat register in the area of your tree will help keep warm drafts from drying out one side of the tree.
A properly cared for tree, that was fresh to start with, can safely be displayed in the home for at least two weeks. The tree is actually your best indicator. If needles start dropping, and water use stops, there could be problems developing.
Hopefully these tips will help you enjoy your holiday season.
November 4, 2008
There is definitely change in the air. The main change heading our way is the temperature going down. We've had a great fall, but all good things have to come to an end. Many of our remaining chores are labeled "final" or have the word "winter" associated with them. Here are some of those chores to be working on, and now we have to add, weather permitting.
Clean up those dead stems and trash. The stems, and trash that collects in them, provide a place for diseases, insects, and rodents to live during the winter. If plants were badly infected with diseases, they should be burned or physically moved to another site. All the other vegetation can be added to a compost pile for recycling.
You should also get an inch of water per week on perennial plants, unless Mother Nature does that for us. Do this until the ground freezes. This is one of those rules of thumb that is especially important for evergreens. Evergreens require more water throughout the winter, as they continue to respire through the needles. Evergreens, particularly broadleaved evergreens such as azalea, rhododendron, and holly, use more water in cold months. These, and others in locations with drying winds, might even benefit from a windbreak or a spray treatment with an antidessicant.
Winter mulches should be put on after the ground actually begins to freeze. Thanksgiving time is a good average guess for timing. Winter mulches put on too early might delay the natural dormancy process. Mulches should be two to four inches deep, and the ground should be moist before applying them.
Tender bulbs, roots, or corms should be dug, if you already haven't done so. These would include dahlia, canna, caladium, tuberous begonia, and gladiolus. Many of these will actually have rotting problems from frost. Be careful when digging so the bulbs are not cut, as any wound usually means a rot will begin. Any bulbs that look diseased should be thrown away. Most can be dried at room temperature, but gladiolus should be dried at a higher temperature (70-80 degrees) and dusted with malathion to protect against thrips. Store all the bulbs in a cool, dry place.
This is not a very good time to prune anything. We need to let the plants go through the dormancy process, which should be completed by late November. Pruning at this time could promote new growth, delay the dormancy process, and attract beetles that carry diseases.
Recommended pruning times begin in December for high sap flow trees, such as maples and sweet gums. Most trees should be pruned in late February or early March before sap begins to rise again. Flowering trees and shrubs should be pruned after they flower, assuming you want the blooms for the year. Otherwise, they could be pruned in the February to March period. Evergreens, including broadleaf evergreens, are best pruned in late June.
Definitely wait to prune oak trees until December, as the beetles that transmit oak wilt virus are attracted to pheromones given off in sap that might escape with earlier pruning. The other disclaimer is for ash trees. Our traditional ash borer, which we have had around for many years, is a weak borer that often enters through pruning cuts. Many recommend not pruning ash trees until they are at least eight years old.
Good weather and bad weather will be interspersed for the next few weeks, at least we hope there is some good weather in there! Take advantage of the good days to finish up those outside chores.