Ready, Set, Grow! Christmas Trees

Christmas trees on a farm in Ethel, La.

As a kid growing up in Reserve, La., I fondly remember the joy of having a Christmas tree this time of year in our living room. The soft glow of its lights seemed to warm us at night, and we’d bask in its beauty for what seemed like hours. Of course, our tree’s “needles” were thin strips of aluminum foil, the “trunk” was painted silver, and the light was projected from a hypnotizingly slow rotating lamp.

If you’re not as into 60’s kitsch as my mom was, however, you may consider purchasing a real, live tree. And if you don’t want it to go up in flames like a bonfire on the levee, you’d better take good care of it. Dead and desiccated trees not only look bad; they present a serious fire hazard.

It begins, of course, with selecting a good quality tree. I don’t know of any “choose and cut” farms in the River Parishes, so you’ll probably find one at a nursery or big box-type store. These are not as fresh, but they can be quite healthy. Remember the tree is still alive when you purchase it, and you want to keep it that way.

Choosing the greenest one may seem like an obvious choice. But trees are often sprayed with a light coating of green paint to enhance the appearance. Color won’t mean much. Instead, pull on a branch and let it go. It should be springy, not crispy. And few if any needles should fall off.

Trees seal off wounds such as the one the saw inflicted to remove it from the ground. A layer of cells called “callus tissue” covers the area to protect it. Even before that happens, conifers will exude a layer of sap that will quickly harden. Unfortunately for our plans, this can be an impediment to water uptake. Before putting it in water, cut off the bottom inch or so to expose fresh circulatory vessels.

Before you bring it inside, let it sit in a big bucket of water for about 24 hours. That little dish at the bottom of the stand should suffice later, but trees often want gallons of water to rehydrate from their recent trauma. Once it’s rehydrated, do place the bottom in a bowl of water, usually as part of the stand. Check the water level every day. If it goes completely dry, it may be necessary to cut the bottom inch off again, so it can again imbibe. If you’re travelling for the holidays, be sure someone checks it or that you give it several days’ worth of water.

If you do pick out a farm-fresh tree, the same suggestions apply. The main difference will be that the tree won’t take up as much water in the first 24 hours. Also, these will most likely be Leyland cypress trees. They’re evergreen trees that grow better than most in the Deep South, and they’re hypo-allergenic.

As I said, I don’t know of any farms in our area growing live trees for you to go out and pick. But “our area” is relative and you may be less averse to driving than I am. The Southern Christmas Tree Association (http://www.southernchristmastrees.org/) has a farm locator you can use. It can be a fun outing for the whole family and a wholesome Christmas tradition.

If you want to know more about gardening, landscaping, or anything else horticultural, contact the St. John, St. James, & St. Charles Parishes County Agent André Brock at abrock@agcenter.lsu.edu. Also, the LSU Ag Center’s website can be accessed at www.lsuagcenter.com with lots of user-friendly information, including this article.

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