Spring Fever

Spring is finally here and the temperatures have been warmer and our plants are really greening up. All of this really gets us in the mood to get outside and work in our lawns and gardens, but don’t get too excited. I just read an article by my colleague John Fech from Douglas-Sarpy Extension and he said we are about a month early for many lawncare activities, “So the word is Wait.”

Spring lawncare

This is the time of the year when our lawns start to green up and that is when we will begin to notice areas needing overseeding. Bare patches or those with weeds could be renovated and overseeded, but wait. Overseeding can be done in April, but anytime by the end of April to the early part of May is still fine for overseeding. According to Purdue University, the optimum air temperature for germination of Kentucky bluegrass seed is 59-86 degrees, for Tall fescue it is 68-86 degrees. So wait until it warms up more consistently before overseeding the lawn.

Fertilizer is another lawn activity we often do in the spring. You can apply a fertilizer application as needed in mid to late April. Wait to see how the lawn greens up to determine if a spring application is necessary. If a lawn has a medium green hue in late April, skip the typical Arbor Day application in favor of one in late May to early June.

Crabgrass is one of the most problematic weeds in lawns. It is a summer annual weed. Summer annuals germinate in the spring, grow and produce seed throughout the summer and die with the first frost in the fall. Crabgrass germinates when the soil temperatures average 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit. So, crabgrass preventer should be applied when the soils hold that temperature for a week-long average, visit cropwatch.unl.edu/soiltemperature to view the current soil temperatures for your area. Typical preemergence herbicides include dithiopyr, prodiamine, or pendimethalin as the active ingredient. A second application should be made in late May to June for season-long control.

If the seed is put out on the lawn too early in the spring it could sit there and rot prior to germination or it could germinate on a warm day and then be killed by a later spring freeze. Similarly, if fertilization or crabgrass pre-emergence herbicides are applied too early they can add to water pollution. Also, if they are applied too soon in the year they will break down early and be less effective when plants need it or as crabgrass germinates.

Spring cleanup of perennials

As we talk about cleaning up perennial beds, again the word is ‘Wait’. The added mulch, including old plant material, can help keep a plant dormant on early, warm spring days. If the plant breaks dormancy too soon in the spring, it can be damaged by later spring cold temperatures.

Also, leaving the plant material around the plants from the season before can help pollinators and other beneficial insects that have overwintered in the crown or stems of our plants. Removing the plant material prior to the insects emerging in the spring could kill those valuable insects. 

So, as exciting that it is that spring has finally arrived and the weather is warming up, don’t get too excited in your lawncare duties. Instead of going outdoors to work in your yard, enjoy the weather with a walk, take your dog if you have one, or just sit outside to read a good book.

*Reference to commercial products or trade names does not imply endorsement by Nebraska Extension or bias against those not mentioned.

Gray Snow Mold

After this long winter, we are all ready for spring. However, the large amounts of snow that lasted for weeks has wreaked havoc on our lawns. Snow mold is being found in many yards across Nebraska. Photo above of Gray Snow Mold is from Jody Green, Nebraska Extension Educator in Lancaster County.

Gray Snow Mold

Gray snow mold is a fungus that can appear in our lawns in the late winter or early spring. It will occur as the snow is melting or just after the snow has melted. The fungus causes roughly circular whitish-gray patches in all cool-season turfgrass species but it is more common in fescue than in Kentucky bluegrass. In shorter lawns, it may appear as more rounded spots, but in most of our taller grass, it will look more irregular in shape or even undefined shapes.

This year, we are seeing snow mold due to the prolonged period of snow cover and the depth of that snow cover that we had later this winter. Snow mold is most severe when heavy snow falls on unfrozen ground. When we had the extreme cold temperatures, our soil temperatures were right at or above freezing. Most of the highly infected areas of our lawns were along driveways, sidewalks, and roads where the snow was piled very high. In these areas, the snow took much longer to melt which has caused more incidence of snow mold. You might notice patches of matted, white-gray colored grass in your lawn where the snow mold is present.

Managing Gray Snow Mold

It is not necessary to use a fungicide for managing snow mold in home lawns. The likelihood that we will see it every year is not high and the timing for using a fungicide for snow mold is prior to the establishment of the disease. Since we don’t know what the snow cover will be from year to year, we don’t know when to expect snow mold and therefore do not recommend a fungicide. Gray snow mold is not seen in our lawns very often.

The best management for gray snow mold would be to rake it up in the spring to pull out the dead areas of the leaf blades. If this leaves bare patches in the lawn, you may need to overseed this spring. Overseeding can be done anytime in the month of April through early May. Avoid fertilization this spring to allow the plants to recover naturally.

General Spring Lawncare

As we plan for spring weather and preparing our lawns for the warmer weather, remember to not get too excited, too soon. Apply fertilizer if needed in late April. Wait to see how the lawn greens up to determine if a spring application is necessary. If a lawn has a medium green hue in late April, skip the typical Arbor Day application in favor of one in late May to early June. Remember to avoid the locations where snow mold was present to avoid heavy growth when recovery is necessary.

Crabgrass is one of the most problematic grassy weeds in lawns. It is a summer annual weed which germinates in the spring and dies with the first frost in the fall. Crabgrass germinates when the soil temperatures average 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit. So, crabgrass preventer should be applied when the soils consistently reach that temperature. Visit http://cropwatch.unl.edu/soiltemperature to view the current soil temperatures for your area. Typical preemergence herbicides include dithiopyr, prodiamine, or pendimethalin as the active ingredient. A second application should be made in late May to June for season-long control.

Starting a Garden

This winter has been long! It is nice to look forward to spring weather and gardening. We can’t get out there quite yet, but we can begin to plan and start transplants indoors.

Garden Location

For a new garden space, choose a location that gets at least 6-8 hours of sunlight and most of the sunlight should come in the afternoon. Select level ground with good soil in a location that is near a water source and is in a location where water does not often sit for long periods of time after rain.

Planning for Garden Rotation

If you have gardened in the location for multiple years, be sure to rotate your crops from season to season. Avoid planting plants from the same family in the same location every year, they should be rotated at least every 2 – 3 years. Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants are in the same family and cucumbers, zucchini, squash, melons, pumpkins, and gourds are in the same family.

Soil Test

If you are starting a new garden, you may want to do a soil test prior to starting the garden to see where your nutrient, pH, and organic matter levels are in the soil where you plan to garden. You can do a soil test anytime of the year when the soil is dry. Each garden space should be separate samples and the garden soil should be sampled separately from other landscape areas such as the lawn or a flower bed.

To take the soil sample, take multiple samples from 10-15 locations throughout the garden and mix those together to get a uniform sample from across the whole garden. Use a soil probe or small shovel or garden trowel to take the samples. Each sample should include soil from the top 4-6 inches. Mix all of these smaller soil samples in a bucket and fill the sample bag from the mixture to mail off for diagnostics. The sample bag and information on mailing and pricing for soil samples can be obtained at your local Nebraska Extension office. After you get the sample together, mail it in and wait for the results which will help you determine what, if any, amendments should be added to your garden for best growth and production of your plants.

Starting Transplants Indoors

It is best to wait until after our last frost to plant transplants of warm season crops into the garden, I use Mother’s Day as a guide for when to plant outdoors. You can purchase plants from a nursery or you can start your own transplants indoors at home. It takes about 8 weeks to grow tomatoes and peppers from seed, so count backward from Mother’s Day to determine when to start the plants indoors. Don’t start your transplants too early or they will get too tall and spindly.

When starting transplants, use good quality seed and a sterile soil or soil-less mixture. Start the seeds in seed trays. You can reuse pots or seed trays from previous years, but thoroughly clean all equipment prior to reuse. Maintain temperatures between 70 and 75 degrees. Seedlings need 12-16 hours of light per day. This light should be kept about 1 inch above the plants, as they grow, this light should be moved up with the seedlings. The light source can be as simple as a utility or shop light with one cool and one warm fluorescent bulb.

Two weeks prior to planting outdoors, you will need to prepare home-grown plants to outdoor conditions, this transition is called hardening off. Move the plants outdoors in the shade on non-windy days. Start out by placing the plants in sun for only an hour or two, gradually increase the length of time they are in the sun and the intensity of that sun. Be sure to bring the plants indoors at night. Also, keep them out of direct wind until they have hardened off.

Houseplants

The winter is a great time for Houseplants. We can’t be outside with our plants, especially in the sub-zero temperatures we are seeing right now in Nebraska. However, we can enjoy our houseplants from the warmth and comfort of inside our homes. And now is a great time to go out and purchase a new houseplant, or possibly you will get one as a gift for Valentine’s Day.

Houseplants

There are so many great houseplants to choose from. They can be found in a lot of colors, including their foliage colors, some are admired for their greenery and some for their flowers. I have a few, they are all grown primarily for their greenery. Aloe, philodendrons, hoya, snake plant or Mother-in-law’s tongue, and cactus are all plants I enjoy in my office. There are also some great dumbcane plants, African violets, corn plant, and peace lily among many others to choose from.

Houseplant Care

Light is critical for any plant, but houseplants can have real problems if placed in incorrect lighting. In the winter months, plants struggle with poor lighting. Our homes don’t provide houseplants with enough light in the winter so you may need to supplement light for proper growth. Be sure to check on the light needs for your houseplants. Plants such as Boston fern, Peace lily, philodendron, and snake plant are tolerant to low light. These plants will “sunburn” if placed in too intense of lighting, causing the leaf or leaf tips to turn tan in color and become papery.

According to Sarah Browning, Lancaster County Extension Educator, South facing windows provide the brightest light, while across the room from a north window is the darkest location. As a comparison, if light intensity near a south window is ranked as 100%, east and west windows provide about 60% as much light intensity, and north windows only provide about 20% light intensity. This should help you decide which window is best for your plant.

If you do not have a window or location near a window with enough light intensity, you may need to supplement the light around your plant. You can purchase plant lights from many stores and online shopping locations.

Sarah Browning also discusses how humidity is another critical care factor for your houseplants. Many houseplants are tropical in nature and our homes are quite dry in comparison, especially in the winter months. Plants need 70-80% humidity for best growth. Increased humidity in the room can be accomplished through the use of a humidifier or by placing plants in bathrooms which are typically more humid. A pebble tray can also be used. Place plants on a tray of pebbles with water among the pebbles, keep the water level below the plant container. Do not leave plants sitting in water, this can lead to root rot issues.

Also, be sure to keep the plants sufficiently watered. Just feeling around in the soil to test for moisture can be an effective way to know when to water. Don’t just water weekly on the same day, test the soil first. If the soil feels wet don’t water, if it feels dry water the plant. Some plants will tell you when they need watered with droopy or wilted leaves. Remember, the watering needs of your plants will differ so be sure to water only as needed. Add water until it runs out the drainage holes in the container.

GroBigRed Houseplant Series

If you would like to know more about houseplants, you can gain some great information through an upcoming webinar series from Nebraska Extension. The Houseplants 101 is a free webinar series on Saturdays from February 20-March 6. You can register at go.unl.edu/houseplants101 The schedule is as follows:

February 20th

10am-Choosing a Healthy Houseplant

11am-Picking your plants: Easier & Lower Need Plants

February 27th

10am-How do I keep it alive? (Environmental Considerations)

11am-Fertilizing & Watering

March 6th

10am-What’s eating my plants? Basic Pest & Disease Management

11am-Potting and Repotting

Snow!

We really saw a lot of snow the past couple of weeks. I know not all people appreciate snow as much as others. It makes travel difficult and is accompanied by very cold temperatures, and also, in some cases, our plants don’t appreciate it either. On the other hand, there are some plant benefits to all this snow as well.

Benefits

Plant protection is a benefit that comes from snow on plants through the winter. That may sound odd, but it works as an insulation to keep the plants uniform in temperature. This can help keep the plants from frost heaving, which is where the plant is pushed out of the ground by continual freezing and thawing of the soil throughout the winter months. Once this has happened, the plant roots are exposed to freezing temperatures and will likely die. Not all plants frost heave and some are more prone to this situation. The insulation from the snow also reduces the freezing depth in the soil, keeping it warmer for the deeper roots.

Snow may be cold and be difficult to move through, however, it does provide moisture to our plants in an otherwise dry environment. Winter is usually dry and windy. Strong winter winds can make winter drought worse. Snow is good moisture to help reduce drought.

Disadvantages

Some of the disadvantages from snow on our plants is the damage from the snow itself and the damage from wildlife including deer and rabbits. Small wildlife, such as rabbits, are more protected from predators in the snow and all wildlife are looking for food when snow covers the ground.

Deer can cause a lot of problems to plants in all seasons of the year, but especially through the fall and winter. They chew off the ends of small twigs and bucks rub their antlers on smaller trees, injuring the bark.

Rabbits can also be a problem in our landscapes. Rabbits will chew on small plants. In the winter months they gnaw on the thin bark of young trees to feed on the green inner bark areas. In winters with heavy snowfall, you can sometimes see a horizontal line of damage along small trees or shrubs in a tree row or all around shrubs from where the rabbits chewed during the winter.

There is no real cure for deer or rabbit damage to our plants, exclusion will have the greatest impact. Rabbits can be excluded by surrounding a garden or landscape area with fence made of 1 inch mesh that is 2 feet tall. For deer, the fence needs to be at least 5-6 feet tall around the trees or shrubs you wish to protect but can be a larger mesh if you don’t also have rabbit issues.

Heavy snow can also cause our trees and shrubs to bend down out of their normal form or even break branches. If the branches are just bending, they will return to their normal shape in the spring. For bending branches, it is best to just allow the snow to melt naturally. However, if the snow is heavy and may cause branches to break, that can be more damaging for our trees and large shrubs. If it is heavy snow, lightly shake the branches or carefully use a broom to brush heavy snow off the branches.

If the tree becomes covered with ice, the instinct is to knock it off the tree, but this can be more damaging than leaving it. If you try to break ice off a tree or shrub, it can break or crack branches, leaving more problems. Let ice melt naturally off the plant for best results. 

Right Plant, Right Place

‘Right Plant, Right Place’ is a very important aspect of planting and it is a great time to start thinking about it while building on what I wrote in my last article. The seed catalogs are arriving and planting ideas are forming. However, there are things to keep in mind when planning your garden or new plants for an established garden.

Hardiness zones

Hardiness zones are listed on all plant labels. These zones are made based on the plant’s ability to survive the winter. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, plant hardiness zones are based on average extreme minimum temperatures at a given location during a particular time period. In Southeast Nebraska, we are in zone 5b, while most of the state north of 1-80 is in zone 5a. It is important to utilize plants that are suited for our hardiness zone to ensure their survival through winter.

Sunlight requirements

The amount of sunlight a plant receives is critical for health and durability. There are many levels of sunlight preferences for plants, and it can be a little confusing.

  • Full sun plants need 6 or more hours of sunlight per day. This should be at least six hours of open, full sunlight, not dappled light. These plants grow best if the majority of the sunlight they receive is the hot, afternoon sun.
  • Part sun plants grow best in 4-6 hours of sunlight per day.
  • Part shade plants grow best in 2-4 hours of sunlight per day. This can be dappled sunlight.
  • Full shade plants grow best in less than 2 hours of sunlight per day. This doesn’t mean that they receive absolutely no sunlight, but maybe some morning sun or just a bit of dappled sunlight through the day.

Water Requirements

The water requirements for plants can vary greatly depending on the plant, the type of soil it is planted in, and how long the plant has been planted in that location. For example, plants in sandy soils will need watered more often than those planted in a clay soil. Also, plants that are newly planted will need more water than those that are established in a new location. Those that are newly planted will not have the root mass of an established plant making it more difficult to find water when it is not available.

There are plants that are more drought tolerant than others. These plants have different features to help them survive longer periods without irrigation. They may have fleshy leaves to hold more moisture, smaller leaves, or leaves with deep indentations to reduce leaf area. They might also have a very waxy leaf surface or one that is covered with hairs to help hold in moisture. Other plants may have much longer roots to reach deep into the soil to find moisture.

On the other hand, there are some plants that are more adapted to wet locations. Plants need oxygen to survive, even through the roots. Some plants can take longer periods of time in wet soils or even in flooded locations. Some plants are even adapted to be under almost constant water, such as bald cypress trees. These trees, however, pop their roots up and out of the ground to get oxygen in constantly wet locations. If your location is constantly wet, choose a plant more adapted to that type of growing conditions. Some plants will not survive long in high moisture areas.

Planning a Garden

In December, you might not think much about your garden due to the colder temperatures and snow, that is falling as I write this article. However, this is a great time to start planning a new garden. You can figure out the best location and plan out what you are going to plant in it now while new plant ideas are flying in from all the garden catalogs.

Location

Location is key for your new garden, but you need to know what you are planning on planting prior to deciding the location. If you are looking for a new vegetable garden spot, select a location that has full sun or at least 6-8 hours of full sunlight per day, the afternoon sun is best.

Also look for a location with level ground and good soil. If you are unsure of the nutrient values, pH, and amount of organic matter in your soil send in a soil sample to be analyzed prior to adding any amendments and planting. You can pick up the materials for completing a soil test at most Extension Offices.

Another thing to remember is to plant your garden near a water source. Your plants will need supplemental watering through the summer, having a nearby water source is much easier for management. Remember to avoid low areas or where water tends to pond in your landscape. Areas of poor drainage will constantly be a difficulty in your garden. If you have an area of poor drainage that you want to redo or plant into, you can choose landscape plants that are adapted to swampy or wet conditions. There are many to choose from and they will grow better there than those that prefer well-drained or dry soils.

What to Plant

When deciding what to plant in your vegetable garden, think about things that your family eats most of and what you have space for in the new garden location. You can look for new or different varieties of things your family enjoys. There are some really fun varieties out there, including more tomatoes than you can ever imagine.

If you are thinking about plants for a new landscape bed, you need to first determine the sunlight and moisture levels in the area then look at plants that will grow in those growing conditions. You also should consider the amount of management for the plants you desire. Some plants take a lot more care, with cleanup and deadheading, while others don’t take as much. Once you figure that out, look at the colors and flower types you prefer and plant those. Keep in mind full size of the plant when planning how many of each plant to purchase, don’t overcrowd the plants.

Starting from Seeds or Transplants

You can start your own plants from seeds indoors, or you can purchase transplants in April or May for direct planting. Starting from seed can be less expensive but take more time and will have some initial costs of lights, trays, and soil. Transplants are more expensive, but you can’t always find the varieties you prefer in the stores. Starting the seed yourself ensures that you can have specifically what you like best for tomatoes or peppers or others.

Transplants should be grown in temperatures between 70 and 75 degrees. Too cold or too warm can reduce the rate of germination or the plants may grow leggy or improperly. Seedlings need 12-16 hours of light per day. This light should be kept about 1 inch above the plants, as they grow, this light should be moved up with the seedlings. You can start your seedlings in many different containers, just be sure they are clean and have drainage.

*Disclaimer ­- Reference to any specific brand named product or company does not constitute endorsement, recommendation, favoring or implied criticism if similar products are not mentioned by Nebraska Extension in Gage County.

Avoid Traffic on Frozen Turf

As I walk around my yard with my dog, through the snow, I wonder about the impacts it has on my turf for the spring. Walking on frozen turf can have detrimental effects.

Damage from walking on Frozen Turf

During the spring and summer, we can walk on our lawns and turf fields with no damage. During the growing season, turf plants can recover from traffic through active regrowth. However, during the winter the turf is dormant and cannot recover from the damage until the spring. So, when we constantly walk in the same pattern, when we get the mail or take our dogs outside, the damage is recurring each time. This could be minor to our lawns that they can overcome in the spring, but in some cases it would kill the turf plants in those commonly walked on areas requiring overseeding in the spring.

If you walk on frozen turf, you may notice footprints through the lawn when the lawn starts to green back up in the spring. This can even occur on cold mornings when there is frost on the turf. The lawn will show where you walked that morning when the frost fades and the rest of the lawn looks green and healthy.

Traffic on frozen or partially frozen soils can also increase compaction to the soil. Wet, or frozen, soils will compact together if it is walked on or if traffic drives over it. The moisture in the soil moves through soil pores, so if traffic moves over wet soils, it will smash out any air pockets that remained in the soil, making it more compact. This will also take a while to alleviate through time, aeration, and adding organic matter.

How to avoid or deal with the damage

The best way to avoid the damage to frozen turf is to avoid traffic. This includes walking on it, driving vehicles on it, and playing outside on the turf. If you can walk in different paths each time you go outside, that would be better than walking in the same location each time you go to get the mail or take the dog outside.

If you can’t avoid traffic on the frozen turf, you will likely have to reseed in the spring to get those areas to green back up. Mid to late April is a great time to overseed the lawn in the spring. Be sure to keep it well watered and don’t use a crabgrass preventer next spring if you do need to overseed.

Deicers

Also, be careful when using deicers around your turf and landscape. Deicers can negatively affect plants, soil, concrete and carpet. Select deicers wisely and use them according to direction. Deicers applied to surfaces may run off and enter soil or be splashed onto nearby vegetation. These deicer salts reduce the availability of water to plants, which can increase water stress during spring and summer. This effect is referred to as chemical drought. Deicing products splashed onto foliage may burn and kill plants growing adjacent to roadways.

You can choose products that are less harmful to plants and cause less leaf burn in the spring. Choose products like beet juice, calcium chloride or calcium magnesium acetate which are less harmful to plants than sodium chloride. However, these safer products are more expensive and more difficult to find, so applying a light layer of deicing salts in combination with gravel would be a good alternative to protect our plants. Also, try to avoid piling the snow up in the same location on the edge of your lawn each time it snows so the deicers aren’t always placed in the same spot on your landscape. Remember, deicers are not used to completely melt snow or ice, but to make their removal easier.

Winter Tree Care

It’s cold outside these days and our trees are still alive, they are just dormant. And even a dormant tree, still needs care during the winter months.

Pruning Guidelines

We have always pruned deciduous trees in late winter, however new research shows the optimum time to prune is really in the late spring to early summer. It was determined that it is best to prune trees when they are most actively growing to promote quick wound sealing.

You may not always have a choice on pruning time based on the company you hire or if pruning is to repair damage from a storm. Also, some trees such as maples, willows, birches and others will produce a lot of sap if pruned in the late winter or early spring, they should be pruned in late fall. Oaks should not be pruned from April-July to avoid damage from oak wilt disease, they can be pruned in the late fall as well.

Winter Watering

Ensure adequate watering throughout the entire growing season for all trees and shrubs, especially those recently planted. Water throughout the winter when the ground is not frozen, as necessary. Winter watering should occur around midday on days when the temperature is at least 40-45 degrees Fahrenheit and is only necessary 1-2 times per month until spring. It is a good idea to test for soil moisture with a long screwdriver or soil probe prior to watering to determine if watering is necessary. If the screwdriver goes into the soil easily, watering is not necessary. However, if pushing the screwdriver into the soil is very difficult, plants should be watered.

Winter Desiccation

Winter desiccation commonly occurs on evergreen types of trees and shrubs and is more common in winters with little or no snow cover when plants are exposed to cold, drying winds. All trees transpire, or lose water, even through the winter. Evergreens transpire at a higher rate than deciduous trees and therefore suffer more during winter. Winter desiccation occurs when the amount of water lost is greater than the amount of water the plant takes in throughout the winter. The damage appears as brown needles on branch tips. However, the damage does not usually show up in our trees until early spring, so they will stay green through the winter. Winter desiccation can be managed through winter watering and anti-desiccant sprays.

Anti-desiccant sprays, or anti-transpirants, help reduce transpiration water loss from foliage. Most are an emulsion of wax, latex, or plastic to put a thin film on the foliage and reduce water loss. Plants such as arborvitae, pines, boxwoods, and others can benefit from using an anti-desiccant spray to protect them through the winter. Anti-desiccants should be applied after late November, once they have completely hardened off. Do not apply these products too early in the year. They can be reapplied through the winter or until mid to late February. Always read and follow the label for how to apply and how often to reapply.

Tree Wraps

The trunks of young, tender barked trees are prone to winter sunscald until the tree is mature enough that the bark becomes thick and woody. Damage occurs to the south or southwest side of trees during warm winter days. Sun shining on the bark heats it up. Damage occurs when bark cells lose some of their cold-hardiness during the day, then are damaged as temperatures fall below freezing at night. Damage can be seen as discolored and/or sunken bark, peeling bark or bark cracks in the years following the incident. Once the damage has occurred there is no cure for it. It is better to wrap the tree with a tree wrap through the winter months to protect it before the damage occurs. Remove the wrap in the spring to avoid other insect and disease problems from occurring under the wrap.

Choosing a Christmas Tree

It’s hard to believe, but it is nearly Thanksgiving again, let the holiday decorating begin. I know a lot of people go out on Thanksgiving weekend to pick out their Christmas tree for the holiday season. So, I thought it was a good time to discuss this holiday decoration.

Christmas Trees

There have been many different civilizations throughout history that have used evergreens in their homes, decorated or not, to celebrate the holidays, according to the University of Illinois Extension. Christmas Trees came to the United States in 1747, when people in Pennsylvania decorated wooded pyramids with evergreen branches and candles. By 1850, decorated Christmas trees were a widely used tradition in America. The first retail tree market was in New York in 1851 and the first U.S. President to put a Christmas tree in the White House was Franklin Pierce in 1856. The first national Christmas tree was put up in 1923 on the lawn of the White House by President Calvin Coolidge.

Tree Selection

There are many tree species to choose from for your Christmas tree. The most common tree species used for Christmas trees include: Balsam Fir, Douglas Fir, Fraser Fir, Noble Fir, Scotch Pine, Virginia Pine and White Pine. If you have a lot of heavy ornaments, look for a Fraser Fir, Scotch pine, blue spruce or Black Hills spruce because they have stiff branches that will hold ornaments better. Balsam Fir is the choice for those looking for a Christmas tree scent. White pines can be used for areas where you prefer softer needles.

Before leaving to go pick out your tree, measure the area of the room where the tree will be placed to ensure you get a tree that fits the space. You don’t want to have broken windows like Clark Griswold in the National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation movie.

When choosing your tree, assess the tree condition. Walk around the tree to look for holes in the branching. Slightly tug on the needles that are on the tree to ensure they are tightly attached to the tree and have some flexibility. Also, give the tree a good shake, if green needles fall off or if it has a lighter green color that is not a fresh tree, choose another. Brown needles will naturally fall from the interior of the tree, that doesn’t mean there is a problem with it.

Home Care

When you take your tree home, place it immediately into the tree stand with plenty of water. If the tree was cut within the past 12 hours it doesn’t need to be recut but if it has to sit longer than 12 hours prior to placing it in the stand, it will need to be recut to improve water uptake. Place the tree in a stand that holds at least 1 gallon of water and be sure to add water daily. Research has shown that additives and water alternatives are not as effective as plain water in maintaining a tree through the holiday season.

Keep the tree away from sources of heat to reduce water consumption and help reduce fire hazards. Christmas trees rarely start fires in our homes, but they need to be watered to help them retain their color and keep your floor from getting too messy from fallen needles.