Beautiful gardens by William Johnson
THE TIME is at hand to deck the halls for the holiday season. Do you have your mistletoe, holly and yule tree ready yet?
Few of us have direct access to a local source of fresh sprigs of mistletoe to hang over doorways as mistletoe is fairly rare in Galveston County. (This is actually very good – for our trees anyway – because mistletoe is a parasitic plant.)
Some of us can make fresh boughs of holly to deck the halls as hollies, which are common in our area, have set a good berry crop this year.
However, for many folks – both the young and not-so-young – a fresh Christmas tree complete with lights and other decorations provides a delightful focal point under which to assemble and open those holiday gifts.
Choosing a real Christmas tree is much fun and very easy. Conduct a simple freshness test before purchase by gently grasping a branch with needles between your thumb and forefinger and pulling it toward you. If it is fresh, few needles should come off in your hand. – William Johnson
Fortunately, Christmas trees are accessible through a wide variety of outlets and are now a renewable resource. After a tree is harvested on a tree-growing farm, it is replaced with a transplant seedling and the cycle is repeated. Christmas-tree production is an emerging industry in Texas.
How will you select, prepare and care for your yule tree? Even if you put off buying it until the last minute, there are several steps you should take to ensure adequate safety and full enjoyment of the occasion. The lasting beauty of a Christmas tree depends on careful selection and proper pre-holiday treatment. Here are a few helpful hints:
Selection: Choosing a real Christmas tree is a fun outing for the whole family and easy to do. So your tree isn’t bare by Christmas Eve, first select one with a fresh, green color. Such trees provide good needle retention, pleasing fragrance, better fire resistance and longer holiday beauty.
Second, conduct a simple freshness test. Gently grasp a branch between your thumb and forefinger and pull it toward you. Few needles should come off in your hand if the tree is fresh.
Third, try lifting the tree a few inches off the ground and letting it drop on its stump end. Very few green needles should fall off. Note that this action will require a measure of gravitas so be prepared for folks looking in your direction.
Preparation: Properly pre-condition your new tree before setting it up inside the home. Imagine that it has been cut a while back, packed into trucks and shipped to its final destination. During transportation, its water uptake mechanism at the point of the cut becomes blocked with dirt, sawdust and resins from the needles.
To help alleviate this, purchase your tree a little in advance of the time at which it is to be set up and decorated. When you get it home, cut off the butt of its trunk at least one inch above the original cut.
Place the tree in a container of water in a cool location outdoors overnight or even for a couple of days, if possible. This helps the trunk to absorb water, which will extend its season of freshness and reduce the fire hazard associated with dry trees.
Care: When it’s time to trim the tree, place it in a stand that holds water and keep it filled throughout the holiday season. Check the water level periodically, making sure it never drops below the bottom of the trunk, and refill as needed.
A cut Christmas tree will absorb a surprising amount of water, especially during the first few days. During the first week, check the level of the water in the stand a couple of times a day. After that, check the stand daily.
The tree will take up a larger quantity of water at first, as much as a gallon or more a day, but its water uptake will slack off later. The amount of water initially taken up primarily depends on how recently the tree was harvested.
Safety: Place the tree in the coolest location possible indoors, away from fireplaces or heater vents, and inspect your Christmas lights before placing them on the tree. Look for worn, exposed, or frayed wires and broken or cracked bulbs and replace as necessary.
Be sure to not overload extension cords and to check to see that your smoke detectors are working properly.
We think of the holidays as happy times, an occasion for celebration, thankfulness and sharing with our family, friends and community. By taking a few preventive measures, you and your family can celebrate a happy, nostalgic and fire-safe holiday.
At a glance
WHAT: Growing Tomatoes From Seed tutorial
DATE: Saturday, December 12
SPEAKER: Master gardener Ira Gervais
TOPICS: Variety selection including heirlooms, where to obtain seeds, planting and growing techniques and insect and disease control
WHERE: Galveston County AgriLife extension office in Carbide Park, 4102B Main Street, La Marque. Go online to aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/galveston/index.html for additional details. The event is free but pre-event registration is required, either by phone at 281-534-3413, ext 21, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
William Johnson is a horticulturist with the Galveston County office of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Visit his website at aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/galveston/index.htm.