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Christmas Tree BMPs
Selection, Care, and What to Do After Christmas


Trees commonly used for Christmas trees include balsam fir, Douglas fir, Scots pine, Colorado blue spruce, and Frasier fir.

The holiday season is upon us once again, and for many, that means time to head to the tree lot and pick out the family Christmas tree. Whether you chop your own, select a pre-cut one from the lot, or use a live tree, there are some key points to finding and caring for a good, healthy Christmas tree.

Selecting a Tree
According to Farmers' Almanac, the best days to cut Christmas trees are December 4-17. Why those days specifically? The moon will be waning at that time, and like it does the tides, the moon is said to have an effect on the location of sap in the trees. Timber industry professionals tend to cut trees when the sap is lower, as it will be from December 4-17.

The National Christmas Tree Association advises measuring your space before leaving for the tree lot, in order to know in advance how tall a tree you need. This will prevent bringing home a tree that is too large for the home. If you are cutting your own tree from a farm, the association advises that it is a two-person job: one to cut, and one to keep the lower branches out of the way. Before cutting, make sure the trunk is straight enough, though all trees will have some bends and angles.

When choosing a precut tree, NCTA recommends asking the seller when the trees were delivered to the lot. Newer trees will be fresher, and will last longer. Regardless, make sure the branches are springy and the tree is fragrant. Brian Eshenaur, a plant pathologist affiliated with Cornell University, advises checking the coloration of the tree. Any yellowing or brown colored needles could indicate a pest problem that may result in needles dropping off the tree prematurely. He also advises to handle the tree to make sure green needles don't come off.

If in doubt about the state of a tree, select a different one.

When selecting a live tree that can be replanted after the holidays, choose a species that is native to your area.

Caring for the Christmas Tree
Instead of bringing the tree inside the home right away, especially if you live in a colder climate, gradually introduce the tree to warmer temperatures. Always make a fresh cut on the trunk about an inch from the bottom before submerging it in the stand. The cut should be perpendicular to the stem axis, according to the NCTA. Never drill a hole into the trunk. If the tree is too large for the stand, get a new stand rather than chopping at the trunk to make it fit - or better yet, find a tree that will fit well in a stand you already own.

Farmers' Almanac estimates a tree can absorb about a gallon of water in the 24 hours after the fresh cut on the trunk is made, and a quart or more each day following. NCTA recommends using one quart of water per inch of stem diameter. Keep the reservoir filled and above the bottom of the trunk to ensure the tree continues to absorb water.

If the tree is live and has the root ball attached, make sure it is wrapped and in waterproof material. The root ball should be kept damp, but not flooded. NCTA strongly advises that when decorating a live tree, any Christmas lights used should not give off any heat.

After the Holidays
When it comes time for the ornaments and lights to be packed away until next year, don't just toss your tree in the trash. Many locales offer tree recycling programs, and sellers may be able to provide more information on ones specific to your area. Trees can also be chipped into mulch.

It is never wise to burn a Christmas tree in a fireplace or wood stove, as the sap within the tree can cause a chimney fire.

If you opted for a living tree this year, it can be replanted. Gradually adjust the tree from indoor temperatures to the cooler outdoors, and only replant when the ground is no longer frozen. NCTA recommends mulching the area where the tree is to be planted to prevent the ground from freezing. Leave the burlap and strapping on the tree when planting unless the root ball is wrapped in plastic, in which case it should be cut and rolled down halfway prior to planting.

Once planted, NCTA advises continuing to mulch heavily to keep the root ball from freezing. To keep the tree from flooding, water as needed, and stake it to prevent wind tipping or damage.

To learn more about real Christmas trees, visit the National Christmas Tree Association at

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February 28, 2020, 2:07 am PDT

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