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Here’s how to choose and care for your Christmas tree

(Shutterstock Photo)

Where should I buy my Christmas tree?

  • Shop for your tree at a lot that stores the trees under a canopy and out of the sun. If the trees are lying on the ground, notice if there’s wet burlap between them and if the vendor has been hosing them down frequently during the day. If the trees are displayed upright, choose one that’s standing in water or has wet burlap wrapped around the bottom of its trunk.
  • Cut trees stacked on hot asphalt in an exposed parking lot on an 85-degree day aren’t going to stay healthy for long.
  • The fresher the tree is when you buy it, the longer it will last. There aren’t a lot of Christmas tree farms in Arizona, so the tree you buy is probably from Oregon or thereabouts. That means it was probably cut before Thanksgiving. If it’s already drying out, it will sag, discolor and drop its needles quickly once you get it into your warm house.
  • It may be too late this year, but you can cut down your own tree with a permit.

Learn to recognize a fresh tree

  • Grab the tree by the trunk and give it a firm shake. Notice how many needles fall off.
  • Hold on to the center of the trunk and run your gloved hand across a branch toward you. Your glove should come up clean.
  • Squeeze some needles between two fingers. If they are brittle enough to snap in two, the tree is already drying out. Don’t buy it.
  • Once you choose your tree, ask someone at the lot to make a fresh cut on the stub of the trunk.

When you get your tree home

  • Put it up right away. If you can’t do it until later, prop the tree up in a bucket of water, and keep the bucket full. You can also toss it in the pool for 24 hours or less.

(Caution: Don’t leave the tree in the pool for more than about 24 hours or the chlorine will start to bleach the needles. And don’t throw an already-dry tree into your pool. Its needles will fall off and clog the pool filter.)

  • The first day your tree is in the stand, you’ll need to add water to the stand’s reservoir several times. Experts agree that home remedy additives like bleach, aspirin, soda, syrup or sugar do not help to sustain the life of the tree. The best way to help your tree drink up water is to perform a fresh cut on the base end of the tree before putting it into the stand.
  • After that, keep the reservoir full. Check it every day, especially if you have indoor pets that have decided it is a good watering hole.
  • Find a place for your tree that’s far away from heating vents and the fireplace. The closer it is to a heat source, the quicker it will dry out.
  • Take the tree down as soon as the needles start to fall off of it.

Disposing of your live tree

Do not burn your tree in the fireplace. You could burn your house down if you throw even a few pine branches into the fire. Dried-out evergreens burn like tinder.

Their needles go up in a flash, creating huge, fast-burning sparks, which can fly across a room or onto the roof and set your shingles on fire. Plus, the pitch in the wood creates huge, fast-moving sparks that can jump right out of the fireplace and into your room, or up the chimney and onto the shingles. The combination causes flames, heat and smoke to pour out of a fireplace opening with no warning.

The fire from a Christmas tree burns so hot that you’re sure to damage the firebox and the chimney.

So, don’t put your tree — or any of its branches, even for kindling — in the fireplace. Instead, compost it or bring it to a recycling center, which will chip it up and turn it into mulch.

Christmas trees as mulch

Many cities have drop-off places for your Christmas trees where they turn the trees into mulch. This mulch is great in topical soil application, but if you want to turn the chips into your soil be sure to compost it first.

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