Five tips for selecting the perfect Christmas tree

If shopping for the person on your holiday list who has everything and likes nothing sounds more appealing than trying to find the perfect Christmas tree, then it might be time to consult the experts on the "TLC for Trees" web site.

Maintained by Tennessee Tech University human ecology professor Jeff Plant and agriculture professor Douglas Airhart, the site provides information about selecting, transplanting, maintaining and protecting trees and offers other seasonal advice.

Airhart offers the following five tips for selecting healthy and beautiful holiday evergreens:

• Choose live trees instead of cut or artificial.

"Whether or not you expect to transplant it into your landscape to become a living memorial to your Christmas history, a live tree is a much lower fire hazard than a cut tree," he said.

• Take a close look at the tree’s root ball.

A four-foot tree should have a root ball at least 18 inches wide, and the tree should be firmly attached. The ball should have been kept adequately moist since harvest.

"If the tree is not fresh or the root ball has been allowed to dry, the needles will pull out from the stem," Airhart said. "Gently cup your hand over the center portion of a branch and slide it to the end. Only a few — if any — needles should pull out into your hand."

• Recut and soak the base stem of cut trees in room temperature water for 12 to 24 hours.

"One of the best things you can do for a cut tree is to cut the base stem an additional one to three inches after you get it home, and then let it sit in a five-gallon bucket of lukewarm water for 12 to 24 hours," he said. "It improves water absorption to keep the tree fresh and helps reduce the fire hazard associated with cut trees."

• Whether the tree is cut or live, clean it of dust and other allergens by spraying it with water before taking it inside.

• Consider how the tree will be decorated.

"Varieties like fir and spruce generally have firmer branches that are more able to hold up larger ornaments without bending underneath the weight of the decorations — and they also tend to be more fragrant," he said.

For more information about selecting and transplanting live evergreens and caring for them after the holidays, check out the "TLC for Trees" web site created by the TTU professors at http://tlcfortrees.info.

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