In shopping for a cut tree, try to identify the type and test it for freshness. The needles of spruce and fir (including balsam) are short and attached to the twigs singly; pine needles are longer and attached in clusters of two, three, or five. Most pines, firs, and the blue spruce have good needle retention and a pleasant fragrance, whereas the white spruce and Norway spruce are poorer in both qualities. Avoid hemlocks, which shed their needles readily.
The needles of a fresh tree should be pliable. If they are brittle, pop off easily, have a pale or grayish-green look, the tree is not fresh. A tree with at least 80 percent moisture content stays fresh longer if watered. Once moisture content drops below 80 percent, it continues to fall even with watering. When moisture content is 20 percent, the tree is a fire hazard.
If you must carry a cut tree any distance on top of your car, wrap it in burlap to prevent drying and place it with the base facing front. If you’re not setting it up immediately, stand it in a bucket of water in a cool, protected place. Before setting up the tree (preferably in a stand that holds water), cut off an inch or more of the trunk to increase it’s “drinking” capacity. Water regularly; a fresh tree absorbs up to a quart of water daily.
Place the tree away from fireplaces, TV sets, heaters, and lit candles. Be sure tree lights are UL approved (the box or a tag on the cord should say so) and in top condition. Unplug the lights when not in use. Promptly clean up spilled water or dropped nee-
(which exude pitch) to prevent staining of your carpet or floor.
Some people buy a live evergreen with burlapped root ball for Christmas and plant it after the holidays. To do so in a cold climate, you must dig a hole before the ground freezes and mulch it. Keep the tree in the house no longer than 10 days; water it daily.