Holiday Guide: Purchasing a live Christmas tree

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NORTH CAROLINA - The Christmas tree is a major symbol of the holiday season, and it also is a major agricultural business for North Carolina. There are more than 37 million trees growing on more than 32,000 acres in North Carolina.

In 2010, North Carolina sold $85 million in live Christmas trees, according to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the state produces more than 22 percent of the live Christmas trees sold in the United States.

There are a few tricks in purchasing a real tree to keep it longer and making sure it lasts through the season.
John Hammond, agricultural marketing specialist for the department, said the first step to buying a live tree is measuring the space it will go.

"Measuring the space available, specifically the ceiling height, is important," Hammond said. "Out in the farm, the eyes get a lot bigger. You have to know what you've got."

Hammond said for an 8-foot ceiling, a 6-foot tree would work. A 7-foot tree would probably be too tall once it's in a stand.

"Get a fresh tree," Hammond said. "On the lot, the branches should wrap around a finger. If they snap off, the tree is too dry."

The second option would be to go to a "choose and cut" farm, mostly in the mountains of North Carolina. Ashe, Alleghany, Avery, Watauga and Jackson counties produce more than 90 percent of North Carolina's Christmas trees. Choose-and-cut farms are about 25 percent of all retail Christmas tree sales in North Carolina, with more than 300 farms to choose from.

CLICK HERE to find Christmas tree farms in the area.

The majority of Christmas trees are Fraser firs, which are 96 percent of all Christmas trees produced in North Carolina. Fraser firs have "strong branches, long needle retention, good overall shape and a good aroma," according to Hammond.

Once you have chosen your Christmas tree and gotten it home, Hammond said before putting it in the stand, you need to make a fresh cut on the bottom.

Trees will drink about a gallon of water in the first few days and then about a quart daily afterwards. Hammond said you only need to give the tree water.

"There's no need to put any type of preservative in the water," he said.

Hammond said a tree should last between five and six weeks if watered properly.

Hammond said another traditional holiday decoration – the wreath – also needs to be watered daily. He said it can be misted daily with a water bottle.

"Avoid direct sunlight, it dries them out," Hammond said. He said to not put them between a glass door and a storm door because it creates a greenhouse effect.

Hammond said to avoid putting a tree near radiators, fireplaces or sunny windows. It can dry them out.

After the holiday season ends, Hammond said most cities will dispose of trees. They grind them to be reused as mulch. Hammond said if you purchased a tree at a nursery center, you can also ask the owner if they are recycling trees.

People who own ponds may also use the tree as a fish habitat.

"I wouldn't necessarily recommend just throwing a tree into a lake, though," Hammond said.

Hammond added that taking the family to a choose-and-cut lot in North Carolina is a great family outing during the holidays.

For more information on purchasing or keeping a Christmas tree, click here.