This year's early Thanksgiving means many people will be decorating their homes for Christmas even earlier than usual.
The extra-long Christmas season isn't necessarily a problem for folks who prefer real trees, provided they choose a fresh tree and care for it properly, say Eric McConnell and David Apsley of the Ohio State University Extension.
In general, a fresh-cut tree should last through the holidays with good care -- even one that's decorated on Thanksgiving, said Apsley, a natural resources specialist with the extension and the operator of a tree farm in Jackson County, Ohio. Nevertheless, he said so many variables affect a tree's ability to stay fresh that it's impossible to say how long a tree can be displayed safely.
For one thing, you can't always know how fresh your tree is when you buy it. A tree on a lot might have been harvested locally a day or two ago, or it might have been cut a few weeks earlier and trucked from another state, noted McConnell, a forest product specialist with the extension. Apsley said he drove through the North Carolina mountains last year and saw trees being harvested the first weekend of November.
Even an early harvest may not be a problem if the tree was kept in cold storage, Apsley noted, but there's no way to know how the tree was handled between field and tree lot.
That's why Apsley recommended studying the tree for clues to its freshness. The needles should be lush, green and firmly attached at the tips of the branches, where the growth is new, he said. Lightly grasp a branch and pull it through your hand to make sure very few needles come off.
Shake the tree a little, he suggested. It's OK if a few needles fall off, particularly older brown needles farther back on the branch. But if a lot of needles come loose, the tree is no longer fresh.
Some tree species retain their needles longer than others, so if you want a long display time, choose the right tree, Apsley said. White pines, red pines and Fraser firs have excellent needle retention, according to the Ohio Christmas Tree Association. Austrian pines, Scotch pines, southwestern white pines, Canaan firs, Douglas firs and concolor firs have very good retention.
Don't expect needles to last as long on balsam firs, Colorado blue spruces, Serbian spruces, Norway spruces and white spruces, the association says.
When you get your tree home, cut about an inch off the bottom of the trunk and put it in water so the trunk doesn't seal over with sap. Do that even if you won't be bringing the tree into the house right away, Apsley recommended. The cut is good for about six hours, the extension says; if more time elapses, cut it again.
Set the tree up so it's away from direct sunlight and sources of heat, such as fireplaces and heat registers. Add as much humidity to the room or the house as you can without causing condensation, even if that means setting a pie plate filled with water on the register. And if you can stand it, turn down the temperature in the room where the tree is displayed, or close the heating vents partly or completely.
Keep the tree well-watered, Apsley said, and never let the water level fall below the bottom of the trunk. A tree can take up a great deal of water in the first week, so check the water level at least a couple of times a day at first and replenish when necessary.
Avoid keeping the lights on for hours on end, and never leave the lights on when no one is home, McConnell said. Consider using LED lights, which burn cooler than incandescent bulbs.