Tips for selecting the right Christmas tree - Albuquerque Journal

Tips for selecting the right Christmas tree

Tracey FitzgibbonQ. We want to get a Christmas tree soon and want to know if you have any secrets for picking one that will last for weeks and into the new year. What should we be looking for? – H.H., Albuquerque

A. The biggest “secret” I know of would be checking to be sure the cut tree isn’t too dried out before you purchase.

I suggest either a “thump” test or one where you “pet” the tree.

The thump test is easy as long as you, or a companion, is fairly strong. Literally, pick up a standing tree and thump the trunk soundly on the ground. If you find a shower of needles on the ground after a good thumping then the tree is telling you it’s pretty dried out and probably won’t last through the season you have planned indoors.

If thumping is too strenuous, then “pet” the tree. Grasp a limb from deep inside the tree, close to the trunk, and firmly drag your hand along the branch toward the outside of the tree. If you come away with gobs of needles, then again, the tree is already quite dry and might not last for the period of time you wish.

Granted, there will always be a certain amount of needle drop when having a cut tree indoors, but starting out with the freshest one possible will help keep your home tidier and safer for the coming weeks.

Next is the maintaining of a cut tree indoors. If the retailer offers you a fresh cut on the trunk, and you are able to get the tree standing in water within an hour (the sooner the better), by all means take advantage of that service. With a freshly cut trunk the tree can pull up water so it stays fresher longer. Once that trunk seals, the tree can’t pull up any water and its demise will be far quicker.

So get the fresh cut and get the tree in its stand ASAP.

Nicole Jones checks out the choices as she helps her mother find a Christmas tree at Jericho Nursery. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

When watering, I’ve always offered tepid to warm water. I believe that the warm water keeps the trunk more open so the tree is more apt to drawing up water. I know some add sugar or an aspirin tablet to the water and think it does help lengthen the time before the tree dries out, but I’ve never done that.

Also think about the lights you’ll be using. The more heat the light strands emit, the quicker the tree will be aided in drying out. Nowadays with the led lights available there is less heat created, helping keep the tree fresher longer.

Remember to turn off the lights if you’re going out. A lit, unattended tree is never a safe thing to have in your home! Save the electricity for when you are there to enjoy it.

So that’s what I know. Thump or pet to see if the tree retains its needles as you’re choosing the tree that will grace your home for weeks to come.

Q. I have always been told that poinsettias are poisonous. I’d love to have several around during the holiday for their color but I have little kids and a small dog and don’t want to put them in danger. Are poinsettias poisonous? – W.P., Albuquerque

A. Poisonous, no. An irritant, you betcha.

A philodendron house plant or an oleander shrub planted outside pose a far larger threat to your little ones, be they four-legged or two.

Let me explain.

Poinsettia is in a family called Euphorbia. The sap from Euphorbia can cause skin irritations and some in the family are poisonous – just not a poinsettia.

If you knock off or pluck a leaf from a poinsettia, at the tip, you should see brilliant white liquid (sap) on that end. That sap is very irritating to some.

Through my years of handling hundreds of poinsettias I have developed an allergy of sorts. I can’t handle poinsettias without getting reddened, raw hands. So I’m just extra careful when I do choose to keep those colorful gems in my home.

So being an irritant, your precious ones would have to ingest lots and lots of the leaves or bracts before they’d die. Well before that level of toxicity occurred the body would purge the offender, and with lots of irrigation the irritating sap would be diluted and washed away.

So poisonous, no. Irritating, yes.

When you choose to bring a poinsettia into the home just be vigilant at picking up and leaves or bracts that fall, so everyone is kept out of harm’s way.

Even with my reaction to poinsettias I’d be hard-pressed at the thought of not having a plant that offers so much color and cheer this time of year. Teach the kids and pick up anything a nosy dog might investigate and enjoy.

Happy Diggin’ In.

Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, or to


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