SEBRING — The turkey and stuffing leftovers have been eaten and the pumpkin decorations are packed away. It is time to turn our attention and wallets to all things Christmas. Although according to retailers, it’s been Christmas since October and we have already missed the holiday. Of course, when thinking of Christmas, everyone thinks of the decorated Christmas tree with presents piled beneath it.
Choosing a tree can be hard. For some, it means finding the perfectly symmetrical shape, with the perfect needle length and smell. While others think “a tree is a tree” and choose something reminiscent of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.
The National Christmas Tree Association experts have simple instructions to test for tree freshness.
“Run a branch through your enclosed hand — the needles should not come off easily. Bend the outer branches — they should be pliable. If they are brittle and snap easily, the tree is too dry,” the site said.
Master Gardner David Austin at Highlands County UF/IFAS extension office said whichever type of tree you buy, get it in water fast.
“As soon as you get the tree home, cut the bottom again,” Austin said. “Get it in the stand and add warm water to the stand. You want to get the xylem tubes open. That’s the part of the plant that allows nutrients to go up into the tree.”
Do not allow the tree to become dry or it will not be a very long-term return on your monetary investment and dry trees are a fire hazard.
Products aimed at preserving a tree and reducing needle shedding are on the market and there are old wives tales such as using bleach in the water, or aspirin, etc. The experts at the National Christmas Tree Association say there is no need for anything but water. And caution that some products can cause loss of water retention and bring about an early death to the tree.
Austin said adding a small amount of sugar to the water will bring carbohydrates to the trees, which they use as nutrients. He said maybe a teaspoon of sugar to a gallon of water.
“We’re not making Kool-Aid,” Austin joked.
The NCTA said to avoid placing the tree next to a heating source including fireplaces, space heaters, televisions and computer monitors as they can speed up dehydration.
Another seasonal favorite is the poinsettia. The bright red plants seem to usher in the Christmas spirit. Austin is a big fan of the plant as well. The plants actually come in a variety of different shades and can be bought from big-box stores or local high school fundraisers. They are very popular for decorations and gifts. The colored portion of the plant are not the flowers.
“Most people already know that the poinsettia’s red petals are actually a type of modified leaf called a bract,” Austin said in a newsletter. “The flowers are the small round and greenish structures at the tips of each stem that will produce yellow pollen as the flower matures.”
Austin also gave tips on how to keep this Christmas plant healthy as well as the tree.
“Your poinsettia, if properly cared for, may stay beautiful and retain its color right through the new year and until late winter to early spring. If the plant comes in some type of foil or plastic decorative wrap around the pot make sure you remove that when you water it and let the excess water drain out. The plant will do better if it stays moist but not sit in water,” Austin said. “You’ll probably want to water it every three to four days depending on the location you put it.”