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Skaggs: Keep your Christmas tree happy
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Georgia Christmas Tree Association: Find a Christmas tree farm near you.

Thanksgiving is now behind us, and that means it is officially Christmas season (though local retailers, of course, started the season weeks ago.)

In many households, the season starts with loading the family up for a trip to the local tree farm. For some, the scent of that fresh tree is as much a part of Christmas as the shiny wrapped gifts that go under it.

To ensure a safe and happy holiday season, the Georgia Christmas Tree Association has a few tips on care and recycling of fresh Christmas trees.

If you're buying from a precut tree lot, do a freshness test. Gently grasp a branch between your thumb and forefinger and pull it toward you. Very few needles should come off in your hand if the tree is fresh. Shake or bounce the tree on its stump. You should not see an excessive amount of green needles fall to the ground. Some loss of interior brown needles is normal and will occur over the lifetime of the tree.

Once you've chosen your tree, keep it in a sheltered, unheated area such as a porch or garage to protect it from the wind and sun until you are ready to set it up and decorate it.

In caring for a fresh-cut tree, the most important thing to remember is that real trees need water - just like a fresh bouquet of flowers.

Make a fresh cut across the base of the trunk, 1/4 inch up from the original cut. When a tree is first cut, a seal of sap occurs naturally over its stump which keeps moisture in the tree. It's important to break that seal to allow the tree to take up water needed to keep it fresh throughout the holidays.

Until you are ready to decorate, keep your tree outdoors in a bucket of water and protected from the wind and sun. This will help the tree retain its moisture.

Keep plenty of water in your stand. A Christmas tree may absorb a gallon of water in the first 24 hours it's up and between 2 pints to a gallon of water a day thereafter. Check the stand daily and supply fresh water as needed.

Keep your tree away from heat and draft sources like fireplaces, radiators and television sets.

Test your light cords and connections before hanging them on the tree to make sure they're in good working order. Don't use cords with cracked insulation or broken or empty sockets. Also, be sure to unplug the lights before you go to bed or leave the house. Never overload electrical circuits.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.

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