Fresh Christmas trees are a renewable, enjoyable resource that can be recycled in your garden. Here's how to make sure you get the right tree for you.
For many Minnesotans there's no substitute for a real evergreen tree at Christmas. The sharp fragrance of a pine or fir can bring back childhood memories or provide a pleasant reminder of summer hikes in the woods. And, since Christmas trees are a renewable resource and recyclable, there's no need to develop a Paul Bunyan-sized guilt complex about harvesting a tree -- as long as it's not from your neighbor's yard.
Cut-your-own or pre-cut
Before you go tree shopping, decide where you're going to display your tree and measure the height and width of the area. Many trees are priced by the foot, so you don't want to pay for a 10-foot tree and then cut 3 feet off it.
If you want to cut your own, there are plenty of Christmas tree farms in Minnesota, many that offer "u-cut" trees. (The Minnesota Christmas Tree Association website has a directory. Go to www.mncta.com.)
Choosing and cutting your own tree can make for a fun family outing, as long as you remember to dress for the weather.
Many tree farms also have an array of pre-cut trees, which also are available at garden centers, grocery stores and temporary outdoor marts.
When buying a Christmas tree, look for one with healthy foliage and flexible branches. Gently tug on some needles. If they pull off easily or feel dry and brittle, choose a different tree.
Caring for your tree
No matter what kind of tree you choose, following a few basic steps will keep your tree looking fresh once it's indoors. The keys to long "vase life" for Christmas trees are continuous water supply, cool temperatures and humidity.
Once you get your tree home, cut 1 or 2 inches off the trunk and place the tree in a clean bucket filled with lukewarm water. Use a sturdy tree stand that has a large water well and fill it with clean water. Place your tree in as cool and humid a place as possible. (Avoid sunny windows or heat sources, such as vents or radiators. )
If you can't keep the room cool, set your thermometer to 60 degrees or cooler at night and when no one is home. You could also run a humidifier in the room to keep moisture levels higher.
Recycle after the holidays
When the time comes to take down your tree, remove all the decorations, including tinsel. Many communities collect trees and send them to mulch or compost sites for chipping. If you have a chipper you can make your own mulch.
You also can place your tree in your yard, where it will provide winter shelter for birds. Or, if you'd like an extra layer of winter mulch for your garden, cut the branches off your tree and lay them on any exposed beds.
Nancy Rose is a horticulturist with the University of Minnesota Extension. To ask her a gardening question, call 612-673-9073 and leave a message. She will answer questions in this column only.