Experts offer tips to North Country Christmas tree shoppers
Friday, December 13, 2013 - 9:04 am

As families brave the elements this weekend to pick the perfect Christmas tree, Cornell University experts offer a few tips on choosing a tree as well as some tricks to preserve its beauty throughout the season.

Elizabeth Lamb, who has a Ph.D. in plant breeding and is a senior extension associate with the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s New York State Integrated Pest Management program says:

• Due to regular rainfall most growers had a good year and there are lots of beautiful trees available despite seeing a bit of Phytophthora, a kind of root rot, in the fields.

• The fresher the tree the better, which is a good reason to buy local. The branches should be springy and smell good. A few loose needles aren’t a problem but you shouldn’t get handfuls when you brush the branches.

Brian Eshenaur, a plant pathologist, certified New York State nursery professional and a Western New York-based educator with NYS IPM says:

• The best way to preserve the tree’s freshness is to keep plenty of fresh water in the tree stand. If possible, when you bring it home make a new cut from the bottom of the trunk if you think the tree has spent some time on the tree lot and the cut stump looks weathered and dirty. That way you’re sure to have open ‘pipework’ to keep the water flowing to the needles.

Tips for selecting the best Christmas tree:

• Firs and pines have the best needle retention and can last for a month or more indoors. However if buying a spruce tree, plan to have it in the house for just a week to 10 days.

• Look for a tree with a good solid-green color. Needle yellowing or a slight brown speckled color could indicate there was a pest problem and could lead to early needle drop.

• Don’t be afraid to handle and bend the branches and shoots. Green needles should not come off in your hands. Also, the shoots should be flexible. Avoid a tree if the needles are shed or if the shoots crack or snap with handling.

• Christmas trees should smell good. If there isn’t much fragrance when you flex the needles, it may mean that the tree was cut too long ago.

• If possible, make a fresh cut on the bottom so the tree’s vascular tissue (pipe work) is not plugged and so the tree can easily take up water. Then, if you’re not bringing it into the house right away, get the tree in a bucket of water outside.

• Once your tree gets moved to inside the house, don’t put it next to a radiator or furnace vent. And always remember to keep water in the tree stand topped off, so it never goes below the bottom of the trunk.

County Cooperative Extension offices often have lists of local Christmas tree growers. You can also check the Christmas Tree Farmers Association of New York website at www.christmastreesny.org/new-york-state.html.