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Ag Matters - Millions still find joy in 'real' Christmas trees

Over the next few weeks I, like many other people, will be busy selecting and setting up a Christmas tree in my home. Each year 25-30 million live trees are sold in North America between Thanksgiving and Christmas. In response to this demand, Christmas tree growers plant two to three seedlings the following spring for every tree harvested. This makes live Christmas trees a very renewable resource, and they are recyclable too.

Many species of trees are harvested for Christmas tree use. Some of these include Scotch pine, white pine, Fraser fir, Norway (or red) pine, and balsam fir. Scotch pine is dark green in color with twisted needles born in clusters of two. White pine has soft flexible needles, is very fragrant and blue green in color. Needle length is medium and arranged in five needles per bundle. Fraser fir has short, dark green needles and a very traditional Christmas tree shape.

Norway pines have long, coarse needles arranged two per bundle. These trees tend to have a more open growth habit and retain needles well. Balsam fir has needles that are similar to Fraser fir, with rounded needle tips. These trees retain needles well and are a fairly dense tree.

Purchase your Christmas trees locally, if you can. You can be assured of a "fresh" tree and you help support the local economy -- something from which we all benefit. Many trees are cut several weeks in advance, and these ones tend to dry out more then freshly cut trees. Also, this year may prove to be a dry tree year, given the mild temperatures we have experienced this fall.

Many trees may have lost water in the delivery process. When selecting a tree, bend a needle or thump the base. A bent needle should spring back and not break. Thumping a tree against the ground should yield few needles.

Over half of the weight of a tree is water; with proper care you should be able to extend the freshness of your tree throughout the holiday season. The following tree freshness tips are complements of the National Christmas Tree Association:

1. Display trees in water to increase freshness and minimize needle loss.

2. Cut a 1?4 to 1-inch thick disk of wood from the base of the trunk before placing it in the stand. Make a perpendicular straight cut (not angled or v-shaped) to the stem axis.

3. Place tree in water as soon as possible or within eight hours of cutting the stem.

4. Use a stand that will hold at least one quart of water per inch of trunk diameter.

5. Use a stand that fits the tree. Do not whittle the sides of the trunk to make it fit. The most efficient water carrying cells (xylem tissues) are immediately under the bark.

6. Display your tree away from heat sources (fireplaces, heaters, heat vents, direct sunlight, and even your television) to reduce the amount of water that transpires from the needle surface. Lowering the room temperature will help too.

7. The temperature of the water you use has no effect on water uptake into the tree.

8. Do not allow the water in the stand to fall below the cut edge of the tree trunk.

9. Do not add water-holding gels to the stand. These will only lower the amount of water available to the tree.

10. Do not use additives in the water, including floral preservatives, commercial preservative or homemade concoctions. Clean water is all the tree needs.

11. Use the Web site to search for tree recycling options by zip code.

12. Never burn your tree in a fireplace or wood stove as conifers (especially dry ones) can burn very uncontrollably and can pose an explosive fire hazard.

Finally, consider placing your used tree outside, as a shelter for birds and other animals through the rest of the winter.

For more info, contact me at the Polk County office in McIntosh at 800-450-2465, or at the Clearwater County office on Wednesdays at 800-866-3125. If e-mail is your thing, contact me at Source: Rick Abrahamson.