‘Tis the season to get a Christmas tree

Published 7:04 pm Thursday, November 27, 2008

Several families will celebrate the tradition of picking a fresh Christmas tree to decorate their home for the holidays, but a few things should be kept in mind before inviting the new guest into one’s home.

Paul Sanders, a fireman with the Andalusia Fire Department, said proper maintenance of a tree is the first step in household safety and fire prevention.

“Check the water level in the tree’s base daily and make sure the tree is given plenty of water,” he said. “Trees also need to be kept away from heat sources. Make sure lights are kept in good condition; no frayed wires or broken lights with exposed wiring, so you do not get any shorts that would lead to a fire.”

Chuck Simon, coordinator for the Covington County Cooperative Extension Office, said real trees require a good amount of maintenance to remain safe in the home.

“Trees can consume, on average, a gallon of water every two days,” he said. “Water is essential to ensure the tree remains healthy while in the home. If the tree begins to turn brown and needles begin to fall off its branches, then it is certainly recommended to get ride of the tree.”

According to the U.S. Fire Administration more than 33 million American households place natural trees in their homes for the holiday season. Christmas trees account for 200 fires annually, resulting in six deaths, 25 injuries and more than $6 million in property damage. Typically shorts in electrical lights or open flames from candles, lighters or matches start tree fires. Well-watered trees are not a problem. Dry and neglected trees can be.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association the following tips are recommended for residents who choose to use a natural tree this holiday season.

Displaying trees in water in a traditional reservoir type stand is the most effective way of maintaining their freshness and minimizing needle loss problems.

Make a fresh cut to remove about a 1/2-inch thick disk of wood from the base of the trunk before putting the tree in the stand. Make the cut perpendicular to the stem axis. Don’t cut the trunk at an angle, or into a v-shape, which makes it far more difficult to hold the tree in the stand and also reduces the amount of water available to the tree.

Once home, place the tree in water as soon as possible. Most species can go six to eight hours after cutting the trunk and still take up water. Don’t bruise the cut surface or get it dirty.

If needed, trees can be temporarily stored for several days in a cool location. Place the freshly cut trunk in a bucket that is kept full of water.

To display the trees indoors, use a stand with an adequate water holding capacity for the tree. As a general rule, stands should provide 1 quart of water per inch of stem diameter. Devices are available that help maintain a constant water level in the stand.

Use a stand that fits your tree. Avoid whittling the sides of the trunk down to fit a stand. The outer layers of wood are the most efficient in taking up water and should not be removed.

Keep displayed trees away from sources of heat (fireplaces, heaters, heat vents, direct sunlight). Lowering the room temperature will slow the drying process, resulting in less water consumption each day.

The temperature of the water used to fill the stand is not important and does not affect water uptake.

Check the stand daily to make sure that the level of water does not go below the base of the tree. With many stands, there can still be water in the stand even though the base of the tree is no longer submerged in water.

Drilling a hole in the base of the trunk does not improve water uptake.

Use of lights that produce low heat, such as miniature lights, will reduce drying of the tree.

Always inspect light sets prior to placing them on the tree. If worn, replace with a new set.

Do not overload electrical circuits.

Always turn off the tree lights when leaving the house or when going to bed.

Monitor the tree for freshness. After Christmas or if the tree is dry, remove it from the house.

Never burn any part of a Christmas tree in a wood stove or fireplace.