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“Fresh tree, fresh cut, fresh water” – how to get the most from your real Michigan Christmas tree

Michigan State University
Bert Cregg

It's the holiday season, so it's great to welcome Bert Cregg back to MSU Today. Bert is a professor of both forestry and horticulture at Michigan State University and a Christmas tree specialist.

Cregg says “things are going well with our growers. Demand has been up the last few years; we're seeing good industry growth these days for Michigan trees.” And he describes some of the latest research he and his colleagues are involved in related to real Michigan Christmas trees. He also talks about how climate change is impacting Michigan’s Christmas tree industry. And he describes the mission of the Michigan Christmas Tree Association.

Cregg offers his tips on selecting, maintaining, and properly disposing of a real tree.

“When you go out to get a tree, it’s best to get the freshest tree you can. The best way to do that is to go out and cut your own. We have literally dozens and dozens of choose and cut Christmas tree farms around the state. I suspect pretty much anybody that's listening to this probably has a farm within 30 or 45 minutes of where they are.”

Cregg describes the “pull” and “tap” tests he suggests using when picking out your tree. And to properly maintain the tree throughout the holiday season Cregg says “fresh tree, fresh cut, fresh water. The big thing is to give the tree water and a lot of it. We hear different things about bleach, aspirin, sugar and soda pop. Just give it plain water.

“I don't think often people appreciate how much water a tree can take up, especially if it's a fresh tree. If you've gotten a choose and cut or a fresh tree from a lot, the tree doesn't know it's dead. It's going to keep taking up water and oftentimes, especially its first three or four days to a week when it's first in the house, you can almost hear that giant sucking sound as that tree is taking that water up. Check it daily.

“We usually estimate about a quart of water per inch of diameter. If you look at the cut end of your tree, it’s typically going to be about three or four inches across for a normal sized Christmas tree. Well, that means that tree can take up three quarts to a gallon of water a day and most of our stands maybe hold a gallon. Then you have to account for the displacement of the tree itself. Definitely check that tree often and keep the water to it. That's really the biggest thing.

“Also, think about where you place your tree. Avoid heat sources. If you've got a vent or something, make sure you put the tree away from that. If you can't, maybe use a piece of cardboard or something to block the flow so that air is not going directly onto the tree. If you can keep it away from direct sunlight, too,  that helps. Those things will all help keep the tree fresh.”

And when the holidays are over, how do we properly and sustainably dispose of the tree?

“We want to make sure that we're recycling the tree. Some cities have curbside pickup. A lot of other places have central recycling. Look around for that. Oftentimes there's a park where you can drop your tree off and they'll grind it up. Those trees get ground up and made into mulch to go on to trails, beds, and things like that. Definitely the thing we want to avoid are the trees ending up in a landfill. Make sure that tree gets recycled. Some people live out in the country. They'll put the tree out in the field and it makes for a good bird habitat. There are some places where they drop them down into lakes and it makes fish habitat. There are a lot of ways of doing it, but just make sure that tree gets recycled somehow.”

Cregg discusses how the pandemic might impact tree shopping this year and suggests calling ahead to the farm you’re interested in going to and learn of their procedures and protocols.

“My key reminder is to keep your tree fresh. Nothing's worse than having a real tree and then getting a bunch of needles on the floor or, worse, have it become a safety hazard. Make sure that you get the tree fresh and that you keep a lot of water in it. That's really the big thing we want to emphasize. Michigan is one of the major growers in the country. One thing people can feel good about when they're getting a tree here in Michigan is that they're keeping their money local. You're supporting the local economy, and I think that's a good thing to be doing in these times.”

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