16 December 2009
In The Garden With the Fluvanna Master Gardeners
By Irene C. Burke - Fluvanna Master Gardener
Fluvanna County Extension Office: 434.591.1950
You have at least three choices this Christmas: fake, fresh-cut, or balled-and-burlapped. Tradition and convenience stand on either side of the argument. Each has its fans but which will you choose? Lets take a look at what should go into this decision making process.
A quick Christmas tree search on the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) web site http://www.ext.vt.edu/ gives you 87 results, from starting your own tree farm to choosing and caring for this years tree. Two results stand out as well worth you time: Selection and Care of Christmas Trees (publication number 420-641) by James E. Johnson, Extension Forester and A Fresh Tree is a Safer Tree by Bobby Grisso, VCE engineer both at Virginia Tech.
In Johnsons comprehensive view, he offers four ways to purchase your live tree: retail lot, choose-and-cut farms, mail order, and living trees. Johnson advises you to consider four important features: species, (Fraser fir tops the list) size, freshness and gypsy moth egg masses. He goes on to discuss the proper care and disposal of your tree and ends with a special section on the living tree destined for a place in your landscape. For those of us who need some guidance in identifying the kind of tree we want Johnson has a flow chart.
Bobby Grisso lists eight clearly stated steps for determining freshness of a cut tree. While Grisso does not explicitly say why a fresh tree is a safe tree, it seems kind of obvious that a dry piece of wood strung with hot lights is a fire hazard. His message is emphatic. Water your tree daily, more often if necessary.
For a commercial point of view, which cites research from the USDA and the U.S. Department of Commerce as well as academic and scientific institutions, check the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) at http://www.christmastree.org/home.cfm.
The NCTA web site presents a nine-item chart that compares live with artificial trees on: origin, production method, components, PVC elements, lead-based parts and dust, carbon footprint, chemical residues, disposal, and renewable resourcing. NCTAs bias for natural rather than synthetic is understandable but they present a compelling science-based research argument citing work on lead poisoning by Dr. Richard Maas, founder and co-director of the University of North Carolina (UNC), Asheville's Environmental Quality Institute (EQI).
Brendan I. Koerner writing for Slate.com presents the NCTA chart in a narrative form for those of us who prefer our information as a story. He cites similar research and sources, arriving at the same conclusion as the NCTA. But Koerner goes a step further and analyzes transportation costs from Chinese manufacturers vs. the American grower with a recommendation to buy fresh, buy local.
According to the NCTA online poll (updated 12/4/2009) 68.2% plan to display a real Christmas tree this holiday while 18.2 percent plan for an artificial tree. Judging from my incomplete survey of this areas live-tree retailers, fresh cut trees are selling out quickly, while the fake languish in store aisles. Seems our neighbors are intuitively sensitive to the land that nurtures them. Im privileged to be a part of that crowd.
Tip of the Week
Before settling your poinsettia in the house moisten the potted plant thoroughly by holding firm in a bucket of water until all bubbles subside, draining the water before replacing in its decorative wrapping. Place the poinsettia away from cold windows, warm and cold drafts; provide indirect light, and day temperatures 60-70F, night, 55F.