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'Keepability' key to Christmas tree shopping

Posted December 4, 2009

North Carolina is one of the nation's leading growers of Christmas trees.
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— Christmas trees will be the centerpieces of living rooms for weeks, so buyers want to know how to choose the best tree that will last the longest.

"The freshness is important because we keep it up until New Year's," Christmas tree shopper Donna Bell said.

It's not so easy to tell how fresh a tree is, though, while shopping in stores or at a roadside stand.

Christmas trees How to buy a tree that will last

The situation is different at Frank Barick's cut-and-chose farm, where he grows cedars, cypress, white pine and Carolina sapphire trees.

"It can't be any fresher than if you cut it yourself," Barick said.

When a Christmas tree is cut doesn't matter as much as how it's cut, said John Frampton, who holds a Ph.D in forestry and is a tree expert with North Carolina State University.

The key to picking a long-lasting Christmas tree is judging its "keepability," or "how long the tree stays fresh after it's cut," he said.

Frampton advised buyers to avoid trees stored horizontally, stacked on concrete or exposed to wind and sun. Instead, look for trees displayed upright, with their trunks in water.

Run your hands through the branches, and don't buy a tree with excessive needles falling off.

A well-kept Fraser fir cut as early as October will hold its needles as long as a tree cut in December that's not taken care of, Frampton said.

To keep the tree fresh once it's in your home, keep plenty of water in the base. Frampton said a tree can drink as much as a quart of water per inch of the trunk's diameter a day. For example, a tree with a 4-inch-wide trunk could drink up to a gallon of water a day.

Ultimately, it's up to shoppers to pick the right tree for them, Frampton said.

"I think the perfect tree is in the eye of the beholder," he said.

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