Since the first holiday tree retail lot was set up on the streets of New York City in 1851, Americans have been enjoying the tradition of a live tree to celebrate the holiday season.
Today, over 32 million trees are sold each year. This industry employs about 100,000 people and in the United States it is estimated that there are over 1 million acres in tree production. There are many different species of tree used in the holiday market. The most popular ones are eastern white pine, Fraser fir, Scotch pine and Norway spruce.
For many families, selection and purchase of a holiday tree is an annual tradition. This is usually the official start of the holiday season for many households. Proper selection of a tree will help make the season enjoyable for you and your family.
Thomas E. Walker
If you purchase your tree from a sales lot, always check your tree for freshness. This is important because the length of time since the tree was cut and the way the tree was handled can greatly influence how well it holds its needles and fragrance.
In general, each tree should have a healthy, green appearance without a large number of dead or browning needles. Needles should appear fresh and flexible and should not come off in your hand if you gently stroke a branch.
A useful trick is to lift a cut tree a couple of inches off the ground and let it drop onto the cut trunk end. Green needles should not drop off the tree. You will usually have a few dried inner needles that fall, but the outer ones should not be affected.
Once you have selected your tree, you should locate the tree in a safe place, preferably near a wall or corner where it is not likely to be knocked over. Keep the tree away from any heat source, such as hot air ducts, wood stoves and fireplaces.
Light cords and connections used in decorating the tree should be in good working condition. Lights should always be turned off at bedtime or when leaving for an extended period of time.
The following formula is one that many people use with their tree to keep it fresh.
2 cups of Karo syrup
2 ounces liquid chlorine bleach
2 pinches Epsom salt
1 teaspoon chelated iron
2 gallons hot water
(You can find the Karo syrup, Borax and liquid chlorine bleach at your grocery store, the Epsom salt at your drug store and the chelated iron at a garden or plant store.)
Using a bucket that will hold the 2 gallons of hot water, add the other ingredients and thoroughly mix them into the water. With a saw cut a one-inch section off the base of the tree, making it a level cut.
Immediately stand the trunk of the tree in the solution and leave it there for 24 hours. Remove the tree from the bucket, but keep the liquid in the bucket. Then place your tree into a tree stand that has a water reservoir.
Once you have located your tree in its position in your house, you can then take a cup and fill the tree stand reservoir with the liquid mixture from the bucket. Every day that your tree is standing in your house you will need to refill the reservoir.
The ingredients in this solution serve various purposes. The Karo syrup provides the sugar necessary to allow the base of the tree to take up the water. Up to 1.5 gallons of water can be taken up by the tree over a two-week period.
The Boron allows the tree to move the water and sugar out to the needles and the magnesium compounds in Epsom salts - along with the iron from the chelated iron - provides the essential components for the production of chlorophyll which keeps the tree green. The bleach prevents mold from forming in the solution.
Have a safe holiday season.
Thomas E. Walker is county extension director for Mifflin and Juniata counties and director of the Penn State Learning Center in Lewistown. He can be contacted by phone at 248-9618 or via e-mail at MifflinExt@psu.edu.