Gardening Help FAQs

Here are answers to some of the most common questions we receive about garden plants. You will find concise information on general gardening techniques as well as plant selection and care. For detailed information on specific plant pests and problems refer to our Common Garden Pests and Problems page.

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Horticulture Questions and Answers

How should I care for my Christmas tree?

If you choose and prepare your Christmas tree carefully it should last at least two weeks indoors and often much longer depending upon the kind of tree you purchase, the conditions in your home and the care you give it.

There are several kinds of trees commonly used as Christmas trees. By nature, some hold their needles longer than others. As a group, pines hold their needles the longest. They can be recognized by their longer needles, 3-5 inches, that are attached to the branches in clusters of 2-5 needles. Common pines used for Christmas trees are: scots or scotch pines, white pine and red pine also called Norway pine.

Next in line are the true firs, these include balsam fir and Fraser fir. They both give off a wonderful fragrance. Balsam fir will not hold its needles as long as Fraser fir but Fraser fir is more expensive. Next is douglas fir which is not a true fir. It looks somewhat like spruce but has soft needles. Spruces can also be found but the sharp, stiff needles and their tendency to drop needles quickly reduce their desirability.

Selecting a tree is a very personal, fun thing to do so select the kind of tree that you like best. If you plan to keep your tree up for a long time, however, your best choice is pine such as scotch or white pine. They hold their needles the longest even after they have dried out.

If you decide to cut your own Christmas tree, you can be assured of getting a fresh tree but most people buy theirs at a tree lot. When you do, select it carefully. The following signs will help you make sure you pick a fresh tree. Signs of freshness are: the tree is not dropping needles, the branches and needles are flexible (not stiff or brittle), and the tree has a good green natural color. Test the tree for these qualities. Run your hand along a branch or hold the tree upright and tap it on the ground. Do needles fall off? A few is okay but if many fall off, the tree is not fresh. Bend a branch and some needles. Are they flexible? Check the color of the tree. It should not be brown or have a dull appearance. Some trees are dyed green so check this carefully. Dying can be detected by green dye remaining on the bark of the branches. It is not always a sign of poor quality so check the needles also.

After purchasing a tree it's up to you to keep it fresh. Transport the tree to your home with care. Trees exposed to wind during the drive home can dry out. So if the tree will be exposed to wind, wrap it securely in a blanket or plastic tarp to protect it.

As soon as you purchase your tree make a clean cut on the base of the trunk. Most nurseries will offer to do this or you can do it yourself with a pruning saw at home. Remove at least 1 inch of the old trunk. This exposes fresh tissue which will absorb water more readily. After cutting, even if the tree will be stored before setting up inside, place the cut end into water or, even more preferably, a tree life solution so the tree can draw in water. Tree life solutions are preferable to plain water because they inhibit bacterial growth in the water which can plug the water-conducting tissue. Once the tree is indoors check daily and keep the water level at least one inch above the base of the trunk at all times. Do not let the stand dry out. If the stand requires frequent filling (more that once a day) replace it with a better stand.