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GUEST COLUMN: Fresh-cut, live or artificial?

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By Jeneen Wiche

Picking out the perfect Christmas tree is serious business for me. Some may find it a trivial chore but I want a tree that will be worth the effort of cleaning, moving furniture, hauling boxes, lights, step ladders and more. But once the mundane is done, then the fun begins. Each ornament that adorns the tree has a story to tell about my grandparents, parents or me. The tree is indeed important because it holds the past. And it must hold the past, in the form of many beloved ornaments, securely and with style.

So which type of tree reflects your history? Do you get a fresh cut, artificial, balled and burlapped or go out-of-town and let someone else do the decorating. All are certainly acceptable but there are different rules that apply to each. Obviously, the artificial ilk has few restrictions but there are some things to remember if you get a fresh cut or balled burlapped tree for planting after the holidays.

When choosing a fresh cut tree, use your sense of smell and touch: fresh trees will be more fragrant and the needles will be flexible yet firm. Certainly take into account the type of tree because the needles of a white pine will be softer then that of a Fraser fir. Also, check the freshness by bouncing the butt of the trunk on the ground a couple of times to see how many needles actually fall from the tree. A few green and brown needles are normal.

If you are not quite ready to bring the tree in once you have purchased it, then just get it in water and store it outside in the shade. The sooner you can get the trunk recut and in water the better…and in order to get your tree to drink, you must have the stump end recut. The original cut sealed over long ago so no water will be absorbed unless a fresh cut is made. Get the folks at the garden center or tree lot to recut the end just before you bring it home and pop it into a pale of water as soon as you get home. Ideally, our trees will drink about a quart of water a day when fresh.

The majority of fresh-cut trees that are purchased in Kentuckiana come from tree farms out of North Carolina and their growing season was adequate this year (not as droughty as we experienced) so the quality of trees should be good. Local u-cut operations are an option for a live-cut tree, too. Check with your county extension for local growers.

Live-cut trees are a renewable resource and one that you can reuse and recycle in the garden once you are finished. If you have beds of iris or daylilies, for example, cut the branches from the used tree and place them over the crowns of the plants to prevent them from heaving out of the ground due to freezing and thawing. Remove the branches in early spring before new growth begins.

Purchasing a balled and burlapped tree for the holidays is a popular tradition for many families but it takes some special care. A live evergreen is not well-suited to the indoor environment during the holidays. Our homes are typically dry and warm and if a live evergreen (intended to live outside) is in this environment too long, it will break dormancy; the tree should stay in the house for about one week, tops. Keep your house as cool as you can and make sure that the root ball stays moist.

The logistics of having a live balled and burlapped tree can be tricky. Root balls can easily weigh 75 to 100 pounds, so moving the tree in and out of the house is no easy task. Keep the size as small as possible, preferably no taller then 6 feet. A smaller tree can be moved around more easily without damaging the root ball; we want to make sure that the root ball remains intact and doesn’t loosen or crumble under the weight of the tree.

Since planting will take place shortly after Christmas, be prepared for the weather: it could be freezing or wet, both of which cause problems when digging holes. It’s really hard to dig a hole if the ground is frozen; and bad to dig a hole if the ground is too wet. Dig your hole now and cover it with plastic so it is ready to go and you can get the tree in the ground right after Christmas. If the hole is pre-dug, there’s no room for excuses!