One of my favorite TV shows is “The Waltons.” I watched an episode a short while ago that involved a live Christmas tree. The Waltons had gone through yet another tragedy only a few days before Christmas; Grandpa had already led the young ones up to Walton’s Mountain, where they had cut the perfect tree and brought it into the house, but they had not yet added ornaments. The family decided to yield to tradition and decorate the tree as always, even though it was painful. Gathering around their tree seemed to bring them peace and comfort.
Stores now are crammed with brightly decorated artificial trees. Some are even pre-lit for rushed families. There is no denying these trees are beautiful, but they lack the delicious fragrance and the wonderful presence of a live tree.
How many modern families have a tradition of purchasing or cutting down a live tree?
Many years ago, there was a Christmas tree lot set up next door to the Anniston Picketts. As the season progressed, the enormous number of trees dwindled; by Christmas, only the smaller, less attractive ones remained.
Recently, I saw a really nice group of trees at B&B Produce on Quintard Avenue in Anniston. I was impressed that the live trees were in basins of water, and a staff member was watering them when I dropped by.
What really caught my attention was a newspaper ad for a Christmas tree farm in Woodland, Ala., where, like the Waltons, a shopper could actually choose a tree to be cut. There is a nearer-by tree farm called Westwood Plantation in Munford.
Research has shown that live trees are no more a fire hazard than artificial trees, provided they are treated with a bit of TLC.
The best types of live trees
• If possible, choose a tree grown in the state of Alabama; they are usually fresher as they were not shipped so far.
• The Alabama Extension Office recommends an Alabama-grown tree such as Leyland cypress (known by some as the Southern Christmas tree), Arizona cypress (‘Blue Ice’ or ‘Carolina Sapphire’) or Virginia pine.
• An Alabama-grown Leyland cypress does not shed after cutting as some Northern-grown cypresses do, according to Ken Tilt, horticulturist at Auburn University. Leyland and other local cypress trees are especially safe for the home as they tend to dry out less that firs and spruces grown up north, Tilt adds.
Tips for buying a tree
• Purchase a tree from a good source.
• Select a healthy tree; the pitiful bargain ones will not improve. Run your hands through the needles to see if they fall out easily; dropping needles may mean the tree is not fresh and is beginning to dry out.
• Make sure your tree stand is big enough. The tree stand should be able to hold at least four cups of water per inch of the trunk’s diameter — about a gallon of water for most trees.
• Also make sure the tree stand is a very sturdy one that will keep the tree upright, especially if the household kitty decides to climb it. (Cats love to remove tree decorations. It is a fun game destined to make the family holiday a bit testy.)
• Help the tree prepare for its new location by allowing it to stay in an unheated spot with no direct sun or wind for a day or two or until it is to be decorated.
• Cut a ¼ inch-1 inch slice off the bottom of the trunk to allow the tree to absorb water. (If the tree is less than 12 hours from cutting to the house, this is not necessary.) Place the tree in a bucket of water before its grand entrance.
• When installing the tree in the stand, do not cut into the sides of the tree to make it fit; this can harm the tree’s ability to absorb water.
Care and watering of live trees
• Once in the house, set the tree in a spot where no one will trip over cords. Pick a cool room away from heat sources such as a heating vent or a fireplace, which will cause the tree to dry out. Closing the heating vent in the room with the tree helps preserve it. If that is not possible 24/7, close the vent when no one is home or at night.
• Before decorating the tree, check all electrical cords and discarding in that are in questionable condition. Turn off the tree’s lights before going to bed or leaving the house. Older, hotter lights can be more stressful to a tree.
• Water, water, water. A live tree can drink almost a gallon of water a day. Check the water level in the tree stand daily. The better we do our watering chores, the longer the tree will stay fresh.
• It is not necessary to add any chemicals to the water to preserve the tree; in fact, some chemicals actually hinder the tree’s ability to absorb water.
• With proper care and water, a live tree can last almost a month. However, if the tree begins to drop needles at a high rate or needles fall off in your hands, that tree is drying or dried out and needs to be removed promptly.
• Many communities recycle Christmas trees. Instead of tossing your tree to the curb, please recycle it if you can.
Sherry Blanton writes about gardening for The Anniston Star. Contact her at email@example.com.
A Christmas tree you can plant
For a truly green Christmas, consider a living tree that comes wrapped in burlap or in a container. Balled-and-burlapped trees can be larger at purchase time. Containerized trees can run smaller and are often considered tabletop trees.
• Buy a living tree from a seller who has cared for it properly. (Check with larger nurseries in Birmingham.)
• Know what the tree will require after planting, and select a tree that will thrive in your environmental conditions.
• Larger trees that do well in our area include Leyland cypress, Virginia pine and Arizona cypress (‘Blue Ice’ or ‘Carolina Sapphire’).
• If choosing a small container-grown tree, such as a dwarf Alberta spruce or a Norfolk Island pine, check the tag to see if it can prosper outside in your particular climate zone. Some of these must remain as houseplants.
• A living tree will perform better in a cooler room away from heat sources that can dry it out too quickly.
• Place a burlapped tree in a large tub and regularly add water to the tub. A full-sized tree may need a gallon of water a day. (Do not overwater, as the roots may rot.) If you do not have a tub, wrap the root ball in waterproof plastic and fold back the plastic around the top of the root ball.
• Misting the needles is a good idea, if you can work around the lights and ornaments.
• Try to keep the tree in the house no more than 10 days. Any longer can decrease its chances of survival outside.
• Once the tree’s inside time is over, plant it in the garden just as you would any landscape plant. Give it plenty of room, as most living trees get large. Fold back all the burlap. Place it in a hole at least three times the size of the rootball, and no deeper than it is presently growing. Return the native soil to the hole. Mulch and keep watered if nature does not provide sufficient moisture.
• Once in the ground, take care of your Christmas tree just as you would any tree in the landscape. This one, however, will be more special, as there will be happy memories attached to it.