MDC: Live Christmas trees offer gifts both during and after the holidays

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Saint Louis
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St. Louis, Mo. — A living Christmas tree can be wonderful holiday gift for your home. It's also the perfect gift for nature long after the holidays are over, according to Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) Community Forester Mark Grueber.

Living Christmas trees bring a feel to the holidays that no artificial tree can duplicate. The natural scent of fir or pine can set the Christmas mood as sure as colorful lights or a favorite Christmas carol. Live trees are also a renewable resource, unlike artificial ones which are made of non-recyclable metal and petroleum-based products.

For those still in the market for a Christmas tree, now is still a good time to pick one up. Buyers have two choices. The first is selecting a cut tree, available in many locally-owned tree lots in the area.

Grueber offered advice on checking the freshness of a cut tree.

"You want to make sure the needles are fairly tight. The best thing is to just take it and bang it up and down on a nice, solid piece of ground and check to see how many needles are coming off," he said. "And you can kind of tell by touch. Brush your hand along some of the needles, and if quite a few are dropping off, that's probably a tree you want to avoid."

Of course the way to get the freshest tree is to make a family outing of it by visiting a Christmas tree farm and cutting it yourself. Trees like these are a renewable resource since more are planted in the place of those taken. Good conservation practices like this help keep green on our landscape and boost our economy, as the support is appreciated by the local tree farm businesses.

The other live tree option is to purchase a living evergreen from a local nursery or garden center. Live evergreens normally come either potted or balled in burlap. These trees can also be planted after the holidays and provide homeowners a lasting gift for years to come. Grueber recommended doing a little research on the tree species and the planting site to be sure it will thrive there. For more details, visit

There are a few things to remember when caring for a live tree. "The most important thing is to keep it watered," said Grueber. When you bring your tree home, make a fresh cut to the trunk, taking about 1/2 –inch off and place it immediately in a tree stand full of water. Grueber recommends checking the water reservoir in the tree stand daily. A tree can drink up a significant amount of water each day. Not only that, but water can also evaporate quickly in typically-dry winter air. Never let the water level fall below the bottom of the trunk. If the water level is difficult to see, Grueber suggested dipping a finger in as a gauge.

Placement of the tree in your home is important as well, to prevent any potential fire hazard.

"Keep it away from your heating vents, where forced air is coming out, that'll dry things out," said Grueber. "And you want to keep it away from fireplaces and candles, or any kind of open flame."

A Christmas tree's work need not be done when the holidays are over.

"It can be used for quite a few different things," Grueber suggested. "You can just cut up the limbs and place them over your plants, especially those that might be a little more tender because it's a great way to insulate them over the winter. Chopping the limbs up with pruning shears into little pieces also makes good organic matter for mulch. "

An alternative is checking with local municipalities. Many have Christmas tree drop off sites where they recycle the donated trees to create mulch.

A cut tree can also offer a bounty of gifts to wildlife for the coming year.

"You can just set it out in your yard and it becomes cover for birds and little mammals," Grueber said. "Or you can set it up and decorate it with peanut butter-covered pine cones, fruit slices or suet baskets and help provide food for birds.
Live Christmas trees can be an excellent way to discover and celebrate nature, both during the holidays and for a long time to come."