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Christmas Tree selection, care
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Live trees have been used to decorate homes during the Christmas season for more than 500 years. Thirty-three million live Christmas trees are used each year in the United States.

Live trees have a fragrance, attractiveness and tradition that can't be matched by artificial trees.

This year, ditch that old fake tree for the real deal. Here are some tips for helping your live tree look great.

It takes between five and 12 years to grow a Christmas tree. Christmas trees are usually evergreen conifers with a conical or pyramid shape.

There are many different species of trees used in the United States during the holiday season, but the most common species are pine, cedar, cypress and fir.

Virginia pine, white pine and Scotch pine can usually be found at Christmas tree lots throughout Georgia.

Many places sell these as balled-and-burlapped, or B & B, and can be planted in the landscape after Christmas.

Eastern red cedar, the traditional Southern Christmas tree, and Deodar cedars can be commonly found in our region.

Leyland and Arizona cypresses make good Christmas trees because they hold up well and exhibit little wilting.

Frasier firs are a common pre-cut tree sold in many commercial tree lots. They are grown in the mountains of North Carolina and are known for their soft needles, making them less prickly than other species when hanging ornaments.

The best tree species for Christmas use comes down to personal opinion.

Choose the best color and form to fit your tastes. Any tree will do fine in your home with sufficient maintenance.

Proper tree selection and care is important for a good live tree experience.

First, decide where the tree will be displayed.

Measure the ceiling height where you want to place the tree. Select a tree at least 1 foot shorter than the ceiling height, also taking into account a few extra inches for the tree stand.

Check perspective trees for freshness by running your hand down the limbs over the needles. Needles on a fresh tree will spring back to their original position. Lightly shake the tree and watch for excess falling needles. Also, make sure the handle (base of the trunk) is straight. This will make for easier stand mounting. The handle should be 6-8 inches long to properly mount in most tree stands.

After bringing the tree home, saw an inch off of the handle to open up the vessels that take up water.

After cutting the trunk, place your tree in the stand and immediately give it plenty of water. Christmas trees may use up to several quarts of water per day.

It is important never to let the water level in the tree stand fall below the base of the tree trunk. This can cause the cut end to seal over and prevent further water uptake.

If this happens, you will need to take the tree out of the stand and take another slice off of the base of the trunk. This will not be much fun after the tree is fully decorated.

Keep your trees away from fireplaces and heating vents. Heat from these sources will dry the tree out and cause needle drop. Use lights that are UL approved, and check them for frayed or exposed wires before decorating your tree. Never leave your home unattended or go to bed with your Christmas tree lights on.

Clark MacAllister is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706)265-2442.