Carefully choosing a Christmas tree

With Thanksgiving behind me, I can now get ready for Christmas. I find myself leaving the radio station on when a Christmas song comes on. Soon enough I'll be decorating the house, sending out cards, buying gifts and setting up a Christmas tree. 

Many Americans have enjoyed the tradition of a fresh, fragrant evergreen tree as part of their country living Christmas celebrations. Today 30 to 35 million real trees are sold each holiday season, and there have never been more sources from which to select them, including throughout Angelina County.

Freshly cut Christmas trees are available from garden centers or nurseries, local retail lots and choose-and-cut tree farms, to name just a few possibilities. In today's post, I'd like to help you select a fresh tree and explain the characteristics of different types of Christmas trees.

"Be sure to consider your options carefully when selecting a Christmas tree for the upcoming holiday."

If you are going to purchase a pre-cut tree from one of many places around town, do so sooner rather than later, so that it can be placed in water closer to the time when it was cut. The more time elapses between cutting and placement, the less color and fragrance you can expect to experience. Also, I urge you to buy locally grown trees. Not only are these trees usually fresher than those shipped from out of state, but buying local - amid the farming and hunting land in Texas - also helps local growers.

Select a tree that is at least one foot shorter than the ceiling height in the room where you will display it. So a standard eight-foot ceiling means your tree shouldn't be more than seven feet tall.

Make sure the base of the trunk is straight and measure between six and eight inches long to allow for steady placement in the tree stand. More likely than not, you'll also need to do some trimming so that the lower branches will not be in the way.

Look for a tree with a healthy, green appearance and few dead or browning needles (ideally none, but no real tree will be perfect in that way). To test the health of a tree, run your hand along any single branch. The needles should be fresh and flexible, and should not come off in your hand. Alternatively, you can bump the trunk of the tree on the ground. If any significant number of green needles fall off, the tree isn't fresh. You can expect a few brown needles to fall off, but if a lot of them do, go with another tree.

Carefully choosing a Christmas treeShoppers in Angelina County and all over Texas have numerous options to choose from when searching for great Christmas trees.

While shopping around you'll likely find several tree varieties. The Virginia pine, for example, is a dense, short-needled tree with artistically spiraled foliage. Its strong limbs can support heavy ornaments. It also has a pleasant pine fragrance and excellent needle retention.  

Virginia pines are commonly available at retail lots or choose-and-cut farms. Other tree varieties to consider include Scotch pine, Norway spruce, Leyland cypress, Fraser fir and Douglas fir. 

After arriving home, remove one or two inches from the base of the trunk to encourage better water absorption. Place the trunk in a bucket of water for a day or two. and ensure that you have a cool, shaded area in which to store the tree before bringing it indoors.

When setting up your Christmas tree, keep it away from any heat source that can accelerate drying. These trees can absorb a lot of water, so place them in a stand with a generous capacity - at least one quart or more. Check the water level each day and add H2O as needed. Depending on size and other factors, a tree may absorb as much as a gallon of water the first day it's set up in your household.

Since real Christmas trees are biodegradable, after the holidays they can be converted into landscaping mulch or put to other organic uses. As one example, each year the municipal government of Lufkin offers a tree recycling service. Additionally, around the farm, trees can be cleaned of all decorations and then be sunk in a fish pond to improve the habitat.

Last, but by no means least: Whether you're an established resident or are considering buying a ranch in Texas near the Angelina County neck of the woods, I hope you all have a great start to this Christmas season!

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Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. Contact him via email: cw-sims@tamu.edu.

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