Friday, December 19, 2008

More tree questions - including odors

From: Elpisnrev
Sent: Friday, December 19, 2008 7:26 AM
Subject: Blog Talk Ideas
Christmas tree water starting to smell foul:

I see that I am not the only person who has a problem with a foul smell from the water after a week or so. It's rather pungent, to the point where I have looked to see if someone has thrown up behind my sofa cushions.....
I have noticed that this is the same smell from pine sawdust that has gotten wet and been covered for a small amount of time. I think it's just the natural bacteria in the tree fiber that gets into the water, that is kept at room temperature and VIOLA! have a christmas petri dish.

I cleaned out the water with a turkey baster, put in a smaller amount of fresh water (tree doesn't seem to absorb as much now) and added a little peppermint oil. I should have gotten pine oil though....

That has worked for the last week.

Happy Holidays,


Siple, MI

Hello Vernon.

You know, it's an interesting phenomenon, how I get that question each year. I'm still convinced it's not that common, but I guess when it happens, it's something that moves people to take action and they do some internet searching and once they find our site, write in a question about it. I've never personally experienced it, so I can't completely get a handle on it. I know you didn't put anything in your tree's water, but I know that's a very common culprit once people explain in an email that they put stuff in their water. One time -- I'm not making this up -- a lady told me she had taken a whole tree feeding spike, the kind you push into the ground near a tree to release nitrogen in the soil around it's roots, and crushed it up and put in the tree stand with the water. Well, needless to say, her water stink, stank, stunk.

I also had a lady write to say that her tree smelled like fish. ???? She thought at first it was because she was pregnant, but then her husband said he smelled it too and since he's not pregnant, that couldn't be the cause.

You may have a point about naturally occurring bacteria, but I would think if that was the case it would be more common. If it was more common, I wouldn't think 32 million families would enjoy a farm-grown tree each year.

I dunno I said, I've never experienced a foul smell coming from any Christmas tree I've ever had, so I can't quite put my finger on it. Interesting idea on the peppermint oil. I think you can also put a little baking soda in the water if it really does smell bad. It will neutralize odor (just like the box in the fridge does) and as a base, it won't harm the plant tissue of the tree. One thing I always do -- and I should add this to our tips section -- is I take my stand outside and hose it out good both before putting my tree up and after I take it down before storing it with the other decorations. I think this helps get rid of dust, dirt, needles and maybe any bacteria like you mentioned.

Merry Christmas!

Sent: Saturday, December 13, 2008 7:46 PM
Subject: FAQ Addition
We have noticed a sudden odor that seems to be coming from the tree. It is not coming from the water base as we were suspecting. What could it be?

What species of tree is it Maria? Crush/split open a few needles between your fingers and see if that releases an "evergreen" scent...unless it is a White Spruce, which has a distinctive odor most people would describe as unpleasant.

From: Maria
Sent: Monday, December 15, 2008 1:50 PM
To: Rick Dungey
Subject: Re: RE: FAQ Addition

The only information I could get on the tree was it is a balsam tree from New Brunswick. Same place, same supplier I always get my tree from. One site online mentioned some trees are sprayed with fox urine, ? to deter deer or other tree eating animals? It actually does smell like the dogs went on the carpet, but there is no carpet in the room.
Crushed the needles. Definately evergreen smell but not the typical fragrance of a xmas tree. If you can shed any light on the mystery, thanks. If not, thanks for your efforts and email reply. I think the tree is going on the porch either way.
Merry Christmas,

Deer deterrent such as animal urine, when used, are typically applied to the ground around a field, not directly on a Christmas tree right before harvest. I wouldn't consider that a culprit. Now, that doesn't mean that some actual animal didn't soil that tree while it was growing in the field, but it would have had to be right before it was harvested I would think and among all the thousands of trees in a field ...I'd call that a very remote possibility.

It's more likely dirt, moisture and such. And I know you said it wasn't coming from the water in the stand but that is most often the culprit of a foul odor I've found over the years of answering questions about trees. Did you add anything to the water?

From: Maria
Sent: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 6:53 AM
To: Rick Dungey
Subject: Re:FAQ Addition
Hi Rick,

Thanks so much for the information. No, I did not add anything to the water. I feel much better knowing that some foul animal chemical was not sprayed on the tree. Should I try baking soda in the water as another blogger suggested? So far I have not done anything except spray Lysol, open the windows & bother you. I am very close to putting the tree on the porch outside against the kids wishes.

Thanks again,

first of all, you're not bothering me ...this is what I do

I recommend baking soda in the water to people who have put something in the water that is making it stinky. I'm not making this time a lady wrote to me and said she had taken a whole evergreen feeding spike, the kind you push into the ground near a tree's roots so it gets nitrogen all year, and crushed it and put it in the tree's water stand. Ugghhhhh. But, since you didn't put anything in the water, I don't think it's the culprit and baking soda wouldn't help.

When you say it is not a "typical fragrance of a Christmas tree" when you crushed the needles, that actually makes me think it is not a Balsam fir. Because...well, to probably 96.3% of the population, you couldn't get a MORE christmas tree type smell than crushed Balsam needles. I suspect it might actually be a White Spruce, which many people say has a disagreeable odor when the needles are crushed. It's very similar in appearance to a Balsam, so many people coudn't tell the difference.

If that is not the case, then my money is on something inside the foliage of the tree which is wet and maybe a bird's nest or a bunch of leaves or some other kind of organic matter.

Hello again Rick,

I think you hit the nail on the head. It must be a white spruce. The tree does not look any different than the ones we have had in the past but I am not the most observant. Will have my husband look at the link you sent and see what he thinks later.
The odor is not as bad as last week. I think I looked the tree over pretty well and I don't think anything is decomposing in it. That is unless a little mouse has drowned in the base and I can't see it. That might explain the strong odor that started abruptly and is slowly dissipating. All that being said, we don't usually have mice.
Now that the smell had eased up, I am not tossing the tree. Besides, the kids get bummed out when I mention it.
Thanks for the tips. I won't put anything in the water. If we don't put the lights on for too long the scent is less noticeable.
I will definately email you the day after xmas when we dismantle the tree if we find any evidence of decomp or anything else unusual.

Merry Christmas!

and a watering question

From: Victoria
Sent: Monday, December 15, 2008 6:15 PM
Subject: Tree wilted overnight

We live in Northern California.
We picked up a 7-foot Noble Fir at our local Home Depot. It smelled good, was very green and still wet inside, most likely from being on the truck. We tested the branches. Bent kneedles. All good. No loss or breakage.
When we got home we made a fresh straight cut and immediately put the tree in the stand in the water. 36 hours later the branches are all wilted and facing down. Is there anything we can do to perk it back up?

I’m very worried it died. Which would suck because it is fully decorated already.


Is the tree absorbing water from the stand Victoria? What is the outside temperature lately where you live?

From: Victoria Holl []
Sent: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 12:12 PM
To: Rick Dungey
Subject: RE: Tree wilted overnight
Hi Rick,
The tree does seem to be absorbing water. An inch or so a day is gone from the stand.
Our days have been in the low 60s and our nights in the 40s. My husband is the total heat miser so our heater is almost never on.

Hmm...well, that's unusual to say the least. I'm encouraged that it does seem to be absorbing water, albeit slowly. But variations in the rate of water absorption is normal, and with you keeping your home cooler than typical that will slow down the rate at which the tree loses moisture.

Was there anything applied to the tree?

If a tree was overly-dry to begin with, you would be able to tell that at the lot, and from what you describe it doesn't seem that way. Also, a tree past what we call the "point of no return" wouldn't be absorbing any water at all.

Exposure to short extremes of heat or cold can cause the foliage to "burn" changing it's appearance. One of the most common examples of this is people who haul their tree home in the bed of a pick up truck. The truck's exhaust heats that surface area and when people get their tree home later they notice that one side of it looks like it was burned. The other common example in colder areas, is someone laying their tree on frozen concrete for a while...that can cause "burning" of the foliage as well.

If you don't think the tree was exposed to any short temperature extremes or or any other external material (hopefully you did apply any fire retardant to it), then I would say just keep tabs on whether it is still absorbing water. Trees are in a state of dormancy when they are harvested, and sometimes it can take a while for that condition to reverse as the tree warms and absorbs water.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What's this?...fake trees catch on fire?!?!?!

heck I thought they were fire retardant???? least they say so on the box. Wonder who tests them to make sure that claim is legit?...oh, that's right, nobody does.

One of these days a manufacturer making that claim on their box is going to get sued.

I'm sorry to this family and the store...I hope they're able to still have a Merry Christmas, and next year, maybe they'll consider a fresh, farm-grown Christmas tree.,0,6766381.story

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ordering Trees Online

Only 10 more days to get a tree if you haven't yet.

Want to see why the Trees for Troops program is so cool ...check out the piece NBC News did:

Every year when I tell people that you can buy a tree online, I get a series of "I never knew that's". Yep, it's really quite simple. It's a great option for people who maybe just don't have time or the vehicle needed to go to a farm or lot to get a tree. There are some restrictions, such as size and species, but if you just want a 5 to 7 foot tall tree, you can point, click, purchase and it shows up at your front door just like any other package.

We ordered a tree for our office this way and I took a series of pictures to show you what it is like. This is Aly from our office, holding up the box with the tree still in it shortly after it arrived.
The first thing to do is open the heavy end of the box (where the trunk is).
Once opened, just pull the trunk out enough to make a fresh cut off the bottom.
Here's Aly revving up the electric chain saw. You don't have to use power tools...a simple bow saw or wood saw will suffice.

Once that's done, open up the rest of the box, either by hand or with something sharp, like scissors, a box cutter, or as Aly's doing, with an exacto knife.

Next, if you have a type of stand that has bolts or cables or something attaching it to the tree, put it on and tighten about 75%. This will make it sturdy enough to stand up but still loose enough to make adjustments to get it straight.

Now you're ready to stand it upright, make final adjustments and add water to the stand. Lickety split ...the whole process took less than 10 minutes. Nicely done Aly!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Great Segment on Today Show

Great Segment on Today Show

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas at the White House 2008

The Sunday after Thanksgiving, I accompanied Pam Helmsing, executive director of NCTA, to Washington D.C. to present the official White House Christmas Tree. As this is my first year with NCTA, I have never seen the Blue Room Christmas Tree presentation. It was definitely a career high for Christmas Tree growers Jessie Davis and Rusty Estes of River Ridge Tree Farms, and I was glad I could be there to experience it, too.
Upon arriving at the White House on the day of the presentation, it took a bit of time to clear each of us through the security gates. Once on the grounds, Pam and I were busy coordinating with the first lady’s press office and the media. We distributed media kits with information about River Ridge Tree Farms, the official White House Christmas Tree, NCTA and general Christmas Tree facts and information. We also provided NCTA ornaments for the media. The weather was not agreeable as it continued to drizzle and stay gray throughout the presentation.
When Mrs. Bush came out of the White House doors, the U.S. Marine Corps Band, “The President’s Own,” played Christmas music as the wagon hauling the tree approached the portico. Though she kept it quick so everyone could move on and out of the rain, Mrs. Bush hit all of the high notes. Not only did she mention NCTA but she also quoted facts about the Fraser fir from River Ridge Tree Farms.

Once the presentation was complete, the families and NCTA staff were invited in out of the rain and into the Diplomatic Reception Room for cookies and hot chocolate. There we enjoyed the treats and warmed up as the family took pictures in front of the fireplace where a famous painting of George Washington hung above. In fact, the face on the $1 bill is a replica this painting. During our time at the White House, Chief Usher Admiral Stephen Rochon gave us quite a history lesson in the time allowed.

In a matter of 15 minutes, one of her press secretaries ushered in the first lady. Mrs. Bush took the time to take pictures with each of the families and NCTA staff. Though her schedule did not yield her much time to stay and visit, she was personable and enjoyable! She even spent time holding Rusty Estes’ grandson and taking a few extra pictures with the children.

Once she left and the hot chocolate and treats were gone, Admiral Rochon personally invited the family and NCTA staff back the following morning to see the Blue Room Christmas Tree being decorated and get a small tour of the White House. On that tour, we were able to see and learn the history of most of the rooms on the State Floor including the East Room, the Green Room, the Blue Room, the Red Room and the State Dining Room. We also saw all the rooms off the Ground Floor Corridor, including the Vermeil Room and the Library. Then we moved to the East Wing where we toured the bowling alley and the movie theater!

We were even lucky enough to run into the Superintendent of Grounds, Dale Haney with the Bush's dogs, Barney and Miss Beazley.
On the day of the presentation on our way out, , we watched the Parks Service crew pulling the Fraser fir tree through the front doors of the White House and into the Blue Room. It is no small task to pull a 21 foot tree through a small double-doorway and through the White House with all its valuable antiques and historic paintings. Getting the tree in the Blue Room, situating it in the stand and setting it upright is another job that takes the many hands. Watch the attached video to see just how complicated and tedious this process is.

Once we left the gates of the White House, life resumed its normalcy. For just a few hours, which seemed to go by so quickly, we were guests in the executive residence and workplace of the president of the United States, one of the highest honors I know I will ever receive.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Trees for Troops blog from Steve Drake

Trees for Troops -- Growing Again

Well, I've been on the West Coast since Monday (12/1) as part of the Trees for Troops program for the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation, one of our client partners.
This is my fourth year being part of Trees for Troops ... and, I'm discovering that it is continuing to grow ... expecially in excitement among military families and in coverage from the news media.
In the first three years, we were able to provide fresh, farm-grown Christmas trees to 34,000 military families. Our goal this year is to reach another 16,000 families which means we've touched 50,000 families in four years.
And, this program is possible only because of the trees donated by more than 800 Christmas tree farms and the thousands of miles, trucks and drivers provided by the wonderful folks at FedEx Freight.
I started my trip assisting in the delivering of trees to soldiers at Ft. Lewis which is located between Olympia and Tacoma, Washington. The MWR folks at Ft. Lewis are adding to the program again this year. And, for the first time, the weather cooperated and was nice when we delivered the trees. A second shipment is scheduled for this coming week. It appears that we have more families seeking trees than we have trees available.
Ft. Lewis designated Sgt Jason Lane (shown being interviewed on radio) and his family to receive the first tree in 2008. Unfortunately, his wife and daughter were ill so he had to select the tree on his own.
Friday, I made two stops at Camp Pendleton in Southern Calfornia. I don't know how but the "CP crew" continues to outdo themselves in activities around Trees for Troops! Even more Marines and families waited at the San Onofre community center ... and all 300 trees were gone within 45 minutes!
Then, it was on to the "main site" ... wow! what an experience ... more than 650 families (thus probably more than 1,200 people) at the landing zone. All kids of activities from Saturn cars to Shamoo the whale and donated Calloway golf balls and about 40 FedEx volunteers wearing their purple FedEx Cares shirts and "Santa hats."
[As I arrived at the main site, several of the Camp Pendleton leaders said they saw a Trees for Troops story on CNN ... and that they already have ideas of how to make Trees for Troops even better in 2009!]
This year also included a special guest ... Anthony Galloway of NBC News in New York who is developing a special feature on Trees for Troops. He thinks it will air between December 20-22.
At his request, the Pendleton folks had selected two families that Anthony would follow from selection of their trees to putting it up in their homes. (FedEx donated tree stands.)
Cara Figueroa and her daughter Estrella joined Andrea Baker and her daughters Lilly and Molly in getting the first trees. Lance Cpl Rene Figeuroa and Cpl Sherman Baker are both deployed in Iraq and won't be home for the holidays.

As you can see in a couple of the photos at the top of this blog post, Lilly, 3, was the real "ham" as she climbed on their tree and proclaimed "my tree" to the cameras! Next, she was on top of the tree as Base Commander Colonel James Seaton and two Marine volunteers (Cathey Kimberly and Thurman Lanel) helped load the tree.

Watching Lilly's face is what makes Trees for Troops so special.
Colonel Seaton gave a short speech just before the volunteers started to unload the FedEx trucks. He said he was personally thankful to the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation (and the 800+ tree growers) for the trees for the Marine families. He said the gifts were a huge boost for morale for the Marines and their families. I was humbled when he came over to me to thank me as the representative of all the tree growers who are part of Trees for Troops.My Google News Alert picked up this blog from a Marine wife at Camp Pendleton ... it really makes you feel great to see this appeciation for the gift of a fresh, farm-grown tree.
"Today, I was given a clean bill of health, AND a Christmas Tree! After my doctor’s appointment this morning I went to the area on base where they had ‘Trees for Troops’. A bunch of sponsors had tents set up for special drawings. We Might win a Wii or cash, but most likely we’ll get a lot of sales calls and junk mail. I’m okay with that. It was so cool to see over two thousand Christmas trees set out in rows for all of us. Brett couldn’t leave work so I went by myself. Our neighbor had gotten there super early to get our tickets. After everyone had a ticket and all the trees were off the tucks, they started calling numbers in groups of 25. I had number 52, so there were literally hundreds of trees from which to choose. The trees were already bundled so it was a tough decision; but I went with my “That’s OUR Christmas Tree” feeling when I came to a semi-plump six footer. It was only after I got the tree home, in the stand, and untied that I realize how plump this tree is. Good thing we only have the couch in here. But, oh how beautiful. Brett pointed out that is is a Fur tree and that’s why it’s so pretty. I’m letting the branches fall tonight, but I can’t wait to put the lights on. The smell has taken over the house. I love it. And to top it all off, the temperatures are finally falling. Not like home of course, but I might be retiring my flip-flops before Christmas….Maybe."What an inspiring message for all of you who have donated trees and/or worked on the Trees for Troops program!Well, I'll be off to Tampa Monday to be part of delivering trees to MacDill Air Force Base.Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!Steve

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A very common tree question about water uptake

Maria had a very common question about her tree.

From: Maria
Sent: Saturday, December 06, 2008 12:27 AM
Subject: Blog Talk Ideas
I'm getting nervous!

We purchased our tree this past Wednesday, December 2. It's a white spruce. We made a fresh cut on the bottom before we put it in the stand, taking off about 3 inches. We also trimmed the top off, to make the tree fit in our living room. Then I filled the stand with warm water and a few tablespoons of standard, generic tree preservation liquid.

Within a few hours, the tree lapped up about half of the water in the stand.

Since then----this is 3 days later----it has drunk virtually nothing at all. There is also no scent at all coming from the tree (and there never was any real scent, not even on the first day).

I put the lights on today and absolutely must trim it fully tomorrow: My eldest son is arriving on Monday, December 8, for a few days (that will be his "home for Christmas " time).

However, after he leaves, we still have weeks to go until Chritmas (and the arrival of two other sons!) and I am worried that the tree won't make it through the holidays. I am thinking of stripping the tree of the lights, tossing it out, and rushing out tomorrow to try and get another tree....but the very idea makes me feel weak with stress! What do you think?

Thank you for your advice....

Hello Maria.

First, let me just say up front, I wouldn't be concerned. You haven't told me anything that indicates the tree will not absorb water as the season goes on. You did everything right by making a fresh cut and getting in a water stand right away. The fact that it did absorb water initially tells me that the plant tissue which absorbs water molecules is open and the tree will absorb more as it loses moisture through transpiration.

The rate at which this process happens is never uniform or consistent. Fluctuations are normal. For example, 2 years ago my tree sucked up about a gallon of water in the first 4 hours of getting inside in the stand...I could practically hear a sound like a sponge absorbing water. Then it didn't take up any more water again for about 3 days. Again, this is normal. Last year my tree -- same species -- didn't absorb hardly any water at all the first 2 days, then "switched on" and sucked up about a half gallon per day for the next 4 days. It really does vary like that. I just got my tree for this year last night, but won't put it up until tonight...I can't wait to see how it does this year.

My recommendation based on what you've told me is that it's OK to go ahead and trim it out fully. Add water to the stand once or even twice per day, even if it's only a little low. I say this because it would not be surprising at all for the tree to suddenly absorb a LOT of water in a short period of time and you want the stand full as often as possible so it doesn't run dry. No need to add anything to the water. If you place the tree away from places that will speed up moisture loss, it won't need to absorb water as quickly.

Now, on the scent....I always hesitate to talk much about scent, because the sense of smell is subjective and everyone is different. For example, when people ask me "what type of tree smells the best?" I don't touch that with a 10 foot pole; because what smells good to me may not to the next person. However, the White Spruce, while being a very pretty tree with excellent needle retention, is generally described as a tree which does not produce a good "Christmas tree aroma". In fact, many people describe an unpleasant odor when the needles are crushed. Every species has a different chemical composition of the pitch contained in the foliage, and the pitch is what produces aroma. Read more about the White Spruce here . I've smelled them before, and I wouldn't really describe it as having a "skunky" smell...I would say it "smells like the woods." But, like I said, sense of smell is different for everyone.

Go ahead and have a tree decorating party with your family and enjoy the beauty of a farm-grown Christmas Tree. Don't forget to recycle it after the holidays.

Merry Christmas!

Dear Rick,

Thank you SO MUCH for the extensive and knowledgeble advice! You really calmed me down! Everything you said made so much sense--- I believe you! Hence, the tree (which is really lovely, but has no scent at all, 'skunky', 'woodsy' or otherwise) will be with us all for this Christmas here in Amsterdam, NY.....and happily decorated this evening. 'O Tannebaum', indeed!

The Christmas Tree has always been the focal part of my family's Christmas. I could tell, you detected my nervousness, as the arrival of Son #1 approaches. I really am so grateful for your expertise, and will proceed with confidence.

Have a wonderful and blessed Christmas. I hope your tree behaves itself.

with sincere thanks,