Wednesday, December 19, 2007

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.