Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Reader Q&A

A couple more for today ...

From: Erika Heinz
Subject: not drinking

I bought my tree the day after Thanksgiving, same as every year. And I watered it every day. Almost a week ago it stopped drinking water. Not a drop. It looks fine. Nothing is turning brown or falling off ... yet. But Christmas is not for a week! And I am getting nervous it may not make it. I drilled a couple of holes in the sides at the botton below the water line just a couple hours ago. Any ideas? I saw all kinds of suggestions from different places online about boiling water, aspirin, bleach. Help!

Answer: Well, those crazy suggestions are not going to help anything. By no means should you put bleach in the tree's water. The rate of water absorption will fluctuate, but admittedly, yes it will also stop altogether eventually. If your tree took up water that many days in a row, I would say it's fine. As long as the water level in the stand did not fall below the cut surface for a long period of time.

From: H & L Cooper
Subject: Christmas Tree Question

You say the best thing for my fresh tree is "plain, fresh, tap water." Does that apply if we have a water-softener? Might the salt hurt the tree?

Answer: No, that won't impact the tree. Your water doesn't have higher salt content, just lower mineral content. The tree is absorbing H2O on a molecular level, and H2O is H2O whether you have a softener or not.

Reader Q&A

More good comments and questions this week.

From: Jean Conway
Sent: Sunday, December 16, 2007
Subject: white house tree

As a curious citizen of the USA in a small town of Texas, I was wondering how many trees does the White House have and how much money does it take to buy them?

Answer: The number of trees they use varies from year to year. We have no idea how much they spend on trees, decorations or anything. I can tell you for sure that the main Christmas Tree in the Blue Room does not cost a dime, as the Grand Champion farm donates the tree and the shipping/hauling costs.

You might try browsing the White House Web site for more info.

From: Chris & Sue
Subject: christmas tree care

We want to put a Christmas tree on our enclosed, unheated porch this year. Apparently it's colder in there than we realized, because the water in the stand is freezing solid. Will a tree last for any length of time in a cold environment if isn't getting any water?

Answer: Well, if it's below freezing, the tree is most likely not losing a lot of moisture, unless it is very dry (low humidity) in that room, or there is direct sunlight on the tree, or any kind of air is blowing over the tree. Those conditions are the most common to speeding up the rate of moisture loss out of the foliage of the tree. Even if it freezes over on top, I would recommend leaving water in the stand anyway.

From: JudCllns
Subject: water for the tree

Is there anything I should put into the water to help the tree stay fresh longer?

Answer: No need to add anything to the tree's water. Nothing has ever been shown to increase moisture levels or needle retention better than plain tap water.

From: Vicki Gllam
Subject: urgent question

I have a problem with a balsam fir - my cat is trying to eat it! We purchased this with roots in a large pot for Christmas with intentions of planting it in the spring. Our kitty seems to think it is food! Do you have any idea if any part of the tree may be poisonous to him? Should I be undressing it and putting it in the garage for the balance of the winter?

Answer: Not much of an expert on cats, Vicki, but here's a link we've found on pet safety.

From: Vicki Gllam
Subject: Re: thank you 2 u.q.

Thank you for the quick replay. We have solved the problem by undressing the tree and sticking it in the garage for planting in the spring. Went out this afternoon and bought an icky artificial one, and it our puss wants to tear it apart then he can go for it. So far so good.

Answer: That's unfortunate to hear, Vicki. Let's hope those warnings from environmental groups about lead dust coming off of fake trees is not true. If it were me, I would make double sure my cat didn't ingest any of the PVC needles from the fake tree.

From: Vicki Gllam
Subject: Re: thank you 2 u.q.

Good grief - I never heard about this one. Maybe it is time to forget about a tree and start a new tradition. This little four legged cat is just too special to me to take any chances with. Wicked world out there - will do more research into the toxicity of trees and cats if and where I can find it. Once again - thank you for the tip on the false trees. Starting to wonder how much is actually safe in this old world of ours.

Answer: Here's a page we have with links to stuff we've learned about fake trees.

I've had a lot of people tell me that to prevent their cat from bothering their tree, they got a blue spruce on year and it never bothered the tree again. Blue spruce has very prickly needles that cats dislike very much. I've never had a cat and a Christmas Tree at the same time so I don't personally know, but it makes sense.

From: Mike
Subject: balsam fir has no scent

I cut down a balsam fir Christmas tree at a local farm two weeks ago. It has now been in my house for two weeks and this tree still has absolutely no scent coming from it. Before putting it in the stand, I gave it a fresh cut and the water level has never dropped too low. I water the tree every day. Can you please help me?

Answer: Now, I will say this, at least you have done everything correctly in the care of the tree - I wish more people were as diligent as you. I can also tell you this, the "gooey" stuff in the needles and very thin branches contain most of the resin that releases scent. Try grabbing say 10 or 12 needles from the inside or back side, and snapping them open like a fresh carrot. Then smell. If there is a strong balsam scent coming from the crushed needles, then it isn't the tree.

I would also ask you this: has anyone else been at your place and not smelled the tree?

From: Mike
Subject: Re: balsam fir has no scent

The tree does have a scent if I bend or break the needles. A few people have come over to my place and they couldn't smell the tree either. At the same time my parents live downstairs from me, and as soon as I walk into their place I can smell they tree they bought off a lot. Now I'm thinking that my tree was never "stressed" - it was cut and in the stand with water in under 3 hours. Where "lot" trees are usually cut a week or 2 before you buy them. I'm going to try letting the tree run out of water for a day or two, re-cut the bottom and then see what happens.

Answer: Harvest time and "stress" level is merely a coincidence. I wouldn't let the stand run dry - that only inhibits and delays the tree absorbing moisture, even if you make another fresh cut. That just seems like a lot of hassle for no real benefit. Besides, it's not uncommon for trees to go from harvest in the field to the retail lot in 2 days, not 2 weeks.

I would just keep letting the tree absorb water as it is. High moisture content is one of the main factors in aroma release.

YouTube Contest

Thanks to everyone who submitted a video in the YouTube video contest. Be sure to take a moment to check out the 13 finalists. Winners should be posted by the end of the week once the judges turn in their score sheets. Check out all the videos and tell us what you think.

Funny Story

Relayed by one of our members ... He explained to a customer who had just bought a cut tree to make a fresh cut when they got home and then put it in a stand. On hearing this, the customer asked," Won't that kill the tree?" Does that make me bad that I chuckled at that?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Reader Q&A

Sorry for not getting more blog entries up this week, it was quite busy and there were many questions and topics sent in.

Just wanted to share this email we received this week. It represents another example of why we love coordinating the Trees for Troops program with FedEx.

Sir or Ma’am-
I just wanted to thank your company for sponsoring the trees for troops program. I am a Navy sailor embedded with a Army unit in Baghdad, Iraq. We received our tree this morning and it was both unexpected and a real joy to receive. None of us had ever heard of this program. We already had a 18” plastic tree that anywhere else would seem pathetic but here it is a reminder of home and seemed much larger than it actually is. The tree we received today seems to bring home and the holidays a lot closer for all of us. The smell, the feel, everything about the tree is a joy to have. Once again thank you for helping support this effort, it is a real blessing for this unit.
Thank you,
Tim Hull
Camp Liberty, Baghdad Iraq

Some common questions/topics came in this week, and also some not so common ones.

Hi there,
We have two young children and since they were causing a ruckus at the tree lot, my husband boldly grabbed a tree and headed for the register. Fortunately, it is a lush and gorgeous tree. The unfortunate part is that we’ve realized that we should’ve had a fresh cut done at the bottom. How critical is this? We’ve already decorated the tree, but since there are still a few weeks to go, is it worth it for us to take it down and make that fresh cut?

Thank you very much in advance for your help. (What a great resource you are to us tree novices!)

Answer: Well, the bad news is, yes -- you really should make a fresh cut off the stump. It only needs to be about 1/4 or 1/2 inch. This opens up the plant tissue in the cambium layer which move water molecules up the tree. When exposed to air for long periods of time (generally more than 4-6 hours), the cut surface will absorb air molecules into the plant tissue and this inhibits the tree's ability to move water. It might still absorb some water, but to maximize it, a fresh cut should be made.

I know that can be a pain if it's already decorated, but it's not as hard as it seems. Remove the water in the stand with a turkey baster or a shop-vac attachment, then remove ornaments, but you can leave the light strings on. Then simply tip the tree on it's side on top of an old blanket or sheet, remove the stand, make a fresh cut, vaccuum up with a shop-vac, re-attach the stand, set upright and fill with plain tap water again. Maybe you can have a re-decorating party this weekend and make some lemonade from this particular "lemon" situation.

Thanks for the blog info! We found it most educational, but still have a question or two: Should we add anything to our tap water to help a cut tree last longer? Corn syrup? Sugar? Plant food? We've heard all three at different times.- Could one add food coloring to the water to increase greenness in the needles? Looking forward to your reply...

Jan and Susan Blake

Answer: Nope...don't add anything to the water. Plant pathologists have actually done many controlled studies on moisture retention and needle retention over the years with various ingredients in the water absorbed by the tree. Nothing has ever been shown to improve either water uptake or needle retention over just plain tap water. If you put sugar, corn syrup or fertilizer (plant food which is basically nitrogen) or any other organic matter in the water stand, it will simply make your tree water smell bad.

Needles are green from chlorophyll, a chemical produced via photosynthesis. Food coloring will only make the water green, not the tree's foliage.

Are you able to confirm or deny the following statement relating to Christmas tree stands: "Metal stands cause trees to dry out and become flammable”. I read it in a list of Holiday Safety Tips recently. I can’t find anything that suggests that there is a problem with metal stands per se…Maybe it could mean that metal stands might be smaller in general and not able to hold enough water? Thanks for any help you are able to provide.

Answer: That's a preposterous statement. Water molecules are not altered if water is in a metal container, or plastic container or glass container, etc.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Reader Q&A

Here's another good (and common) question and answer about how to care for a fresh Christmas Tree.

From: O.A.
Sent: Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Subject: Tree care - additives to water or not?

I'd like to know if additives (i.e. preservatives) to the water for Christmas Trees are helpful and/or necessary? A well-respected garden store in my town even told me to make a scrape in the trunk of the tree (that would be in the water) with a steak knife, saying that would help with the water intake. In your tree care info, you don't even remark about this so does that mean NCTA doesn't advocate additives/preservatives?

Answer: Well, you've got two issues to address here.

First, scraping the trunk does NOT help with water uptake. I wish they hadn't told you that. In fact, if you cut off pieces of the bark and into the cambium layer, it can inhibit the tree's ability to absorb water. Think of the tree as just a bigger version of fresh flowers in a vase. Before placing flowers in a vase, you snip off the bottom with a pair of scissors. With the tree, you cut about a 1/4-inch piece off the trunk ... and for the same reason, it opens up the plant tissue that absorbs water molecules. The whole system works much like a siphon. As water molecules evaporate out of the foliage, water molecules and other compounds are moved up through the cambium layer. That is the softer plant tissue just below the bark. Not much water is moved up and down in the center of the center stem/trunk where the denser woody mass is located. What stops a siphon system is air. After a period of time, typically 4-6 hours, air molecules enter the cambium layer when the cut surface is exposed to air. When you make a fresh cut, you are removing the air and "re-priming" the plant's system to siphon water again.

Does that make sense?

Second, believe it or not, there have been many controlled studies conducted by plant pathologists over the years measuring various water additives' affect on water uptake and needle retention. Nothing has ever been shown to imrpove water uptake consistently across all species better than plain tap water.

I'll share a quick anecdote. After my first season of working for NCTA, I was talking with a grizzled old tree farm about all the concoctions people put in their tree's water. He got a thoughtful look on his face and said," You know, I don't get it. That tree spends eight years out in my field drinking nothing but rain water, and people get it in their hom and think it suddenly needs a 7-Up. I never it a 7-Up once."

Reader Response: Hi Rick - I knew I'd get a good answer from you! If you don't mind, I plan on forwarding your e-mail to my local well-respected garden store. It didn't make sense to me to scrape the bar, but what do I know? And, it never made sense to me either, why a person had to add preservatives to a tree that had grown on water alone. Thanks again for the information. I want to make the most of my seasonal investment: my tree.

Allergies and Trees: True or False?

A few days ago, newspaper articles talked about a new "study" done by some allergy doctors that showed having a farm-grown Chrismtas Tree raised levels of mold spores in a home. I put the word study in quotes because legitimate scientists would not consider what they had done a study.

Recently we received a report from six scientists calling their data "not supported by sound science due to shortcomings in the experimental design." This is yet another example of how the news media doesn't do enough homework before putting articles out.

Trees for Troops

Want to see why Trees for Troops is such a cool program? Just check out our new slide show at YouTube.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Reader Q&A

More reader questions ...

From: Tiffany Bolton
Sent: Friday, November 30, 2007
Subject: Tree Question

I've been doing some reading on your site related to shearing of trees and the angle at which this is done. In our home, we have the height space for a 10 foot tree, but we don't have the horizontal room for it to be 8 foot wide at the base. From our past experience, most trees at our local tree retailers will not be more narrow. Do you have any experience with people shearing a wider tree to fit their space? I guess this would cause a lot of blunt ends at the end of the branches, right? Any advice on how to disguise that?

Answer: Well, yeah. Pruning off branches will make it look ... well ... pruned. Like a shrub instead of a tree. I suppose if you got desperate you could "shave off" one side only and then put that against a wall to leave the full side showing. I'd first recommend though that you shop around for a tree shaped the way you want. You might check with local farms, call ahead and ask if they have many trees sheared at a 60 or 50 degree taper. Or ask if they have trees graded "cull" - they'll know what that means. Those trees will be "skinnier." Also, check with more lots. Bigger lots tend to have more variety in species, sizes and shapes. I face the same issue, since I live in a 150-year -old renovated row house in the city. It's only 10.5 feet wide total, so I get a skinny tree each year too. If you can't find a local farm or lot that has the perfect tree, there's always the online ordering option. I do this every year and just put in the notes on the order page "need a 60 degree taper 5-foot tree."

From: Debbie Marr
Sent: Saturday, December 01, 2007
Subject: What type of tree is in those home decorating books?

Ok, I am at a total loss. Almost every magazine you pick up this time of year shows a beautifully decorated short needled Christmas tree that is so open it shows the ornaments beautifully. Every tree type I see on your site or at the tree farms is so full it doesn't show the ornaments the way the ones in the magazines do.

Answer: The open/sparse look is dependent somewhat upon the genetics of the tree, but mostly through the shearing practices of the grower more so than species. The more open, less dense look is starting to become more popular among consumers, so the Christmas Tree farmers will be working to meet that demand. However, the average tree takes 7 to 10 years to get to 6 or 7 feet high, and the majority of consumers still want a full, thick tree. Check with farms and bigger lots in your area and ask them if they have a "less sheared" tree or one that would be graded a "cull." The grower will understand what you are looking for.


In an article at The Daily Progress, some guy named James H. Gilmore said:

Q: How does the notion of "real" and "fake" apply to Christmas?

A: If you analyze the [Christmas tree] industry, the folks who grow natural grown trees are actually seeing a 20% decline in sales. They have an association called the National Christmas Tree Association. They do not accept manufacturers of artificial trees. Because of the declining market share, they tried to forestall that. Naturally grown Christmas trees are just fake. They're grown in rows, trimmed, injected with preservatives sometimes and painted green. If they don't like it, they call it fake. If they like it, they call if faux. If you can transition from a perception of a fake to faux, you've rendered authenticity. The opposite of original is imitation. There are two different ways families celebrate Christmas. Some people won't do anything else except stay home and do the same thing. Others ask where they're going to go this year.

What a weirdo. First of all, sales of trees have actually gone up 45% in the past five years. Second of all, because they're grown in rows, that makes them a crop, not fake. I guess corn, grapes and apples are fake too because they're grown in rows. Third, and most bewildering, he thinks trees are injected with a preservative. Huh? I can't even fathom what he thinks that is. This article wins the "????" award so far this year.