By Judy Lowe
Holiday time brings with it a couple of myths concerning plants. One persistent piece of misinformation is that poinsettias are poisonous. That’s false for petsas well as humans.
Another is that it isn’t good for the environment to buy live trees that have been cut down. Actually, 98 percent of commercially sold Christmas trees are planted and grown for that very purpose. And once they’ve been cut, more are planted.
If no one buys them, they won’t be planted or grown anymore, and their air-cleaning benefits in the environment will be lost. (Future Christmas trees remove dust and pollen from the air during the seven to 10 years it takes each tree to reach maturity.)
More people are choosing artificial trees because they can be kept up for a long period of time and don’t drop their needles, but there’s something about the fragrance of a live tree wafting through the whole house that greatly appeals to many of us.
The third option — buying a live tree and planting it outdoors in your yard after the holidays are past, is a bit more complicated, but lets you combine holiday memories and landscaping.
When I was a teenager, we lived next door to a family that bought a good-sized live pine each year at Christmas and then planted them in a row to make a living fence on the side of their property. It was a fun project for them — they could tell you which year each tree was planted — and over the years, created a sense of privacy in their yard.
When choosing a live tree to plant outdoors later, the first step is to make sure it’s a type that will thrive in this area. Recommended species include white pine, Virginia pine, Fraser fir, Douglas fir and Colorado blue spruce.
If you’re buying locally at a Christmas tree farm, any of the species that are growing for them will grow for you. But beware of balled and burlapped trees brought to lots and stores from much farther north. Those may not grow well in this region’s summer heat.
Care for cut trees
Look for a fresh tree with a straight trunk. To determine freshness, run your hand down a branch toward you to see if needles fall off. (Bad sign.) Check the tips of several branches to make sure they’re flexible. (Good sign.) Also good: a strong fragrance and a good green color. (Deepness of the color will vary among species of trees.)
Lift the tree several inches and shake it or bump the trunk against the ground to see if lots of needles fall off. Don’t worry too much about some needles on the interior of the tree falling out; that’s normal. But if needles farther out on the branches fall off, the tree isn’t fresh.
Once you’ve made your selection, make a 1-inch cut off the bottom of the trunk and immediately insert the trunk in a bucket of water. If the cut is made when you buy the tree, go right home and place the tree in water. Plain water is fine; no need to worry about additives, many of which do nothing to help. Keep it in water until it goes indoors.
In the house, the most important thing you can do for your cut Christmas tree is to keep it away from heat (watch out for fireplaces) and to check the water supply every day without fail and add more as needed.
For advice on how to care for live trees that will be planted outdoors, see http://mdc.mo.