Christmas tree selection: Before you go tree-shopping, be sure to check the dimensions of your space, and remember that the tree stand will add several inches to the height of the tree. A general rule is that fir and pine generally hold their needles better than spruce trees. This is important if you put your tree up early in the holiday season. Don’t place the tree near hot drafts that can dry it and accelerate needle loss. Avoid locations near fireplaces, heat registers, wood stoves or large windows that receive direct sun. At tree lots, test trees for freshness by gently tugging on the needles to make sure they stay attached to the twigs. Needles that are flexible, moist and fragrant if broken indicate a fresh tree. If possible, lift the tree off the ground a few inches, then drop it on the butt end. If lots of green needles fall off, choose another tree!

Before you leave the lot or farm, or when you arrive home, make a fresh cut at the end of the stump, about an inch up from the previous cut to remove any resin clogs impeding water uptake. Put the tree immediately into a pail of water until you take it inside for decorating. Keep it well watered — check it twice daily if the water reservoir is small. Typically, the stand should supply one quart of water per inch of trunk diameter. Depending on the size, species and location in your house, it may use between a quart and a gallon or more of water each day. One other thing — if you have cats, they may try to drink the sappy water out of the reservoir, which is not healthy. Be sure to put a chicken wire or hardware cloth cover over the reservoir to keep them out — duct tape it on to keep it from getting knocked off. A tree kept cool and well-watered will usually last three to four weeks before dropping needles. Visit http://www.christmastrees-wi.org/ to find a Wisconsin Christmas tree grower near you.

Wreaths and garland: Keeping wreaths and roping (garland) out of direct sun and warm, dry drafts (such as near fireplaces or heating vents) will help preserve them longer. If you work with garland, you will probably end up with some resin on your hands. An easy way to clean up is to keep some margarine nearby on a plate and rub it on your fingers. It takes the resin right off.

Lisa Johnson, Dane County UW-Extension horticulture educator

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