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Top Ten X-Mas Tree Tips

Here's How to Keep Your Cut Christmas Tree Fresh—Without Chemicals or Polluted Preservatives!

Q. Mike: A couple of years ago,you discussed a recipe that would make some kind of fire-proofing"drink" for Christmas trees. I lost my original copy and cannot find it posted on your website.  Any chance you could post it again? Thanks!

---Janelle from Pennsburg, PA

A. I do recall discussing a' recipe' that was making the rounds a few years back—generally in the form of generations-old photocopies or endlessly-forwarded emails— that advocated combining a number of ill-advised household chemicals and then adding this mix to the tree's water reservoir to create a guaranteed fire proof tree!"  But I was warning against it.

(I found people to very gullible about this thing. "But its GUARANTEED," they would insist."What IS the actual 'guarantee'," I'd ask in response—"and who do you call to collect on that guarantee if the trees does burn—or if you or your pets are injured by the toxic soup in that stand?!")

The real key to freshness and fire safety is to NEVER let that tree go without water. Just one day in a dry stand is enough to insure that the tree will never be able to absorb moisture again. So here's my ten-step' recipe' for a really safe cut tree:

  1. If at all possible, cut it yourself at a tree farm; its great family fun and you'll KNOW that tree is fresh!
  2. Whether you cut it yourself or buy it pre-cut,give that tree a good shaking when you get it home; a lot of the needles people find on their carpets came in pre-dead—so shake 'emloose.
  3. Again, whether you cut it yourself or buy itpre-cut, saw an extra inch or two off the bottom of the trunk when you get it home.
  4. Be sure you don't remove any bark above the cut;that bark is the only part that can carry water to the rest of the tree! (I once trimmed off lots of bark to make an especially 'trunky' tree fit into its stand, and the next day the thing looked like something Smokey the Bear would drag around to frighten children.)
  5. Let that freshly - recut tree sit in a bucket of room temperature water overnight.
  6. Then put it in its stand, and check that reservoir EVERY day—several times a day in the beginning. You'd be surprised how much water a cut tree can suck up.
  7. OK—let's be honest; chore #6 is a drag! You have to crawl on the floor, battle those bottom branches, and you always spill half the water on the carpet. So get yourself a gadget that allows you to keep that tank filled while you stand up, like "Santa's Magic Water Spout."It looks like a bell shaped ornament on your tree, but that hollow bell leads to a three-foot long tube that runs down to the reservoir. You slowly pour water into the bell and it fills the reservoir down below—there's even a built in water level indicator!
  8. Position your tree away from radiators and other sources of heat.
  9. Check your light strings carefully for frayed or damaged wires before placing them on the tree, and trash any damaged ones.
  10. And finally…

  11. DON'T put aspirin, bleach, a penny or other urban legend tree preservers in the water—especially if you have pets; they should not drink such things.If you don't have pets, aspirin and a little vinegar may help. But I've found 7-Up to be the best addition; it really helps preserve the tree—and it presents no danger to pooch and kitty types. Just add a cup of soda to the water in the reservoir every couple of days. Don't over do it; no more than one part Seven-Up to every three parts water.Cut flowers (yes, and trees) like the sugar and citric acid, and some folks feel that the natural lemon lime flavoring may act as a preservative as well. Of course, you can use generic lemon-lime soda or knock-offs like Sprite and Bubble-Up instead—just make sure its' regular' and not diet soda; you're not the only one who likes a little sugar around the holidays!

And if You're Planning on Planting that X-Mas Tree…

Getting a truly live tree for the holidays? A balled and burlaped one you'll plant outdoors afterwards? It's a great idea—but plan to set it up outdoors for the holidays (like on a porch or deck) or be prepared to get it in and out of the house FAST. Truly live trees should spend no more than four days indoors, and that's in a room you can keep well below 60 degrees. (If that tree gets all warm and toasty, it will think Spring has arrived and start growing again—then you'll go and deliver it into the clutches of Old Man Winter, and it may well perish from the shock!)

But here's the BEST tip of all: Dig the planting hole for that tree NOW.(Or on the next nice day.) If you don't, I guarantee that soil will be froze solid as steel after Christmas. Cover the hole with a big piece of plywood so nobody falls in. And maybe even bag up the soil and put IT somewhere it won't freeze.

Oh—and have lots of help around—those big root balls can weigh several hundred pounds.

You Bet Your Garden   ©2004 Mike McGrath


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