Agri Leader

Pick a special tree this Christmas season

It's time to pick the perfect Christmas tree for your home this holiday season.

While Christmas trees may look alike, they are actually quite different in shape, texture and water requirements. Before striking out to the nearest hardware store, consider visiting one of the many Christmas tree farms in central Florida this year. These farms not only have beautiful trees, they offer an exciting experience the whole family can enjoy.

There are many tree farms that allow you to come, look around and harvest your own Christmas tree. One of my favorites is Santa's Christmas Tree Forest in Eustis, which is owned and operated by Jack and Judy Ewing. Along with their children and grandchildren, the Ewings grow their own red cedar, Arizona cypress and sand pine in the field. They also have trees transported from Northern states that aren't native to our growing area.

This is one reputable tree farm in central Florida, but there are many others to visit.

Some tree farms have additional activities such as petting zoos, crafts and hayrides so plan to spend the whole day when you go. Christmas tree farms can be a bit overwhelming, so here are a few tips for choosing the perfect tree and keeping it fresh until the holiday.

There are certain evergreens that thrive in central Florida. Sand pines are traditional Florida Christmas trees. These trees grow well in our sandy soil and can be found growing wild all across Florida. Sand pines grow as much as 2 feet every year and have bright, green needles that are typically about 3 inches in length.

Another tree often seen in Florida tree farms is the Arizona cypress. These evergreens grow best in our hot, southern temperatures and sport blue/silver foliage. While the Arizona cypress may not be your typical Christmas tree, they are a good choice for people who want an out-of-the-ordinary, hearty tree.

The red cedar is a juniper that can reach up to 40 feet in height. These trees have beautiful dark green foliage and fragrant wood.

Before choosing a tree, consider the space you have before leaving for the farm. Decide how tall the tree should be to fit perfectly into the designated Christmas tree area. Most tree farms have pricing charts so you will know how much your tree will cost.

Once you find the perfect tree, check the needles and branches for freshness. Be sure the needles are not dry and brittle.

After you cut your tree, be sure to get it into a stand at home as soon as possible to prevent dryness and needle loss. For best results, choose a tree stand that has plenty of room for water. Your stand should provide one quart of water for every inch of stem diameter.

Your tree should also fit into the stand without a lot of whittling away at the stem or cutting. Avoid removing the outer layers of wood because it absorbs the majority of the water that your tree needs to stay green until after Christmas.

Check the water daily and do not let your tree run completely out of water. To prevent drying, avoid placing your tree near heaters, fireplaces and heater vents. Using miniature decorative tree lights will also help reduce drying because they produce less heat than larger lights.

After Christmas, take your tree out of your home if it is very dry. Never burn Christmas trees in fireplaces or wooden stoves, as they are highly flammable. Many people choose to recycle their Christmas trees. Check with the county in which you reside for information on Christmas tree recycling.

There are also ways to use your tree at home after the holiday. Old Christmas trees make great habitats for birds and other wildlife in your backyard. Used Christmas trees also make great structure in ponds and lakes for feeding fish.

Visiting a tree farm will help support local tree farmers and boost our economy. Not only will you have a beautiful, healthy tree but your whole family can enjoy spending time together.