Garden Plot: Oh, Christmas tree

Thursday - 11/22/2012, 11:47pm EST

Ready to buy that Christmas tree? Buying locally can ensure a healthier tree that stays green longer. (Thinkstock)

Mike McGrath,

No dropped needles when you pre-water your tree!

Every year I swear I'm going to get to my Christmas tree advice before you crazy people start buying your trees and every year I start seeing trees in people's living room windows a week earlier. Oy!

When did Christmas start the day after Halloween?

Anyway, if you want to avoid having a floor full of dropped needles so sharp you have to wear biker boots to breakfast, be sure to pre-water your tree. That's right, pre-water. Cut trees get shipped to our area from all over, and if the weather in that region was dry in the weeks before the tree was cut, your Tannenbaum is already suffering a severe water deficit.

So, when you get a precut tree home, have a bow saw ready and use it to take about two inches off the bottom of the trunk. Bow saws are handy, inexpensive tools that are perfect for this and other limb-and-trunk trimming jobs—and they work as fast as a chain saw.

If that brings the bottom branches down too low for your stand, prune the lowest riders off and use them for holiday greens. Just be careful not to trim off any bark - you need that to remain intact to carry water up into the top of the tree.

Then, immediately place the fresh-cut trunk into a big bucket of water and leave it outside for 24 hours, refilling the bucket when necessary. You'll be shocked at how much water some of these trees can suck up.

If you can't leave the tree outside overnight, shake it well to dislodge any already-loose needles, bring it inside and then stand it up in a tub with some water in the bottom.

Either way, let the new cut draw up enough water to really saturate the tree, then put the tree into its stand. This little bit of work will keep the needles on that tree an extra two weeks - even longer if it was cut during dry times.

Or ask Santa for a set of Kevlar socks. Your choice.

Buy local and get a really fresh cut tree

Want to have the freshest tree on the block - one that can stand on display for a solid month without dropping a single needle? Get thee to a Christmas tree farm and pick out a specimen that's still rooted in the good earth!

Street corner trees may have been cut a month ago, but a tree farm tree is sure to be super fresh! You pick out the one you like best and one of the friendly staff will sever its connection to the earth for you.

After its cut, shake it well on all sides to dislodge any old needles hiding in the interior (don't bang it on its base unless you're going to cut a fresh inch off that trunk when you get it home).

A visit to a local Christmas tree farm is a great family outing, supports local growers, keeps trees on the land instead of townhouses, keeps your floors needle- free and you almost always get cookies and hot chocolate!

Virginia Christmas Trees helps locate farms in Virginia. Click on "cut your own" and enter your ZIP code on the right hand side of the page.

Here's another locator specifically for Northern Virginia.

The Maryland Christmas Tree Association helps Marylanders.

And for Southern Maryland, try this website.

And finally, the old reliable Christmas Tree Farm Network. Just click on your state.

Plan now for a Truly Live Tree

Are you planning on having a truly live Christmas tree this season? A balled and burlapped specimen that you'll plant outdoors after the holidays?

Here's some advice that could prevent you doing a darned good imitation of a Warner Brothers cartoon character a few days after Christmas: Dig the planting hole now - before the soil freezes hard as a rock.

Pick a planting spot that isn't under power lines, that has enough room for the skirt of the tree to grow nice and wide, gets sun on all sides (or else the tree will not stay green on all sides), and be sure to "call before you dig" - so you don't sever your neighbor's TV cable right before A Charlie Brown Christmas comes on!

  • Remove all the burlap and other wrappings before planting - no matter what anyone else tells you (they're wrong).
  • Dig a wide hole (to loosen the soil for easy root growth) but not a deep one. Measure the height of the root ball.You want the hole to be no deeper than the root ball is tall.
  • Refill the hole only with the soil you removed (don't improve the soil in the hole or the roots will never leave their snug little home).
  • After planting, water the area by letting a hose drip slowly for a few hours at the base of the tree.
  • And then either just leave it alone or mulch around it lightly with a few inches of compost. Do not use wood, bark or root mulch near your home and don't let any mulch touch the trunk of the tree.