Dec. 06--SAN ANGELO -- Selecting the perfect Christmas tree is a timely tradition for many families in the Concho Valley. Choosing a tree that's "just right," however, is much easier if you do a little prep work before tree shopping, know the signs of a good tree, and follow these important safety guidelines.
Before tree shopping
Measure your space -- First, measure the ceiling height in the room where the tree will be displayed, and be sure to factor in the additional height of your Christmas tree stand.
Secondly, measure the width in the room where the tree will be located. Most trees on tree farms are trimmed to an 80 percent taper, so a tree that's 10 feet tall will likely be 8 feet wide at the bottom, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.
There's nothing worse than having to chop off the top or bottom from a Christmas tree because it wasn't sized correctly.
During tree shopping
Safety first -- Shop at a well-lit retail lot that stores trees in a shaded area.
Ask questions -- Ask the retailer how often and when they get their Christmas trees -- at the beginning of the season, or in several shipments? A tree obtained soon after its arrival will likely be fresher and last longer.
Do a branch and needle test -- Run a branch through your enclosed hand; the needles should not come off easily. Bend the outer branches to ensure they're pliable. If they are brittle and snap off easily, the tree is too dry.
Look for dryness and deterioration -- Are you about to buy a "bad" tree? Check for the following signs:
* Discolored foliage
* Musty odor
* Excessively wrinkled bark
When in doubt about the freshness of a tree, select another one. If none of the trees on the lot look fresh, go to another lot.
Check for bugs -- There could be as many as 25,000 insects in a single live Christmas tree, according to pest control company Safer® Brand.
Instead of shiny ornaments, you might be festively displaying spiders, aphids, mites, sawflies, bark beetles and even praying mantises (among other insects) in your Christmas tree.
Here's how to limit the possibility of exposing your home to these unwanted guests:
* Examine the undersides of branches and the trunk when choosing a tree and prune any branches you find with egg cases.
* Leave your Christmas tree in the garage for a few days.
* Take the tree outside and give it a good shake to dislodge any insects.
* IMPORTANT: Do not spray aerosol pesticides on the tree as aerosols are usually flammable.
Where to buy
Here are a few places you can buy a Christmas tree in and around San Angelo:
* Concho Christmas Tree Farm -- 22310 Toenail Trail near Christoval. Open Nov. 18-Dec. 18. Carries real trees.
* H-E-B -- 5502 & 3301 Sherwood Way. Carries real trees.
* The Home Depot -- 4363 W. Houston Harte Expressway. Carries real and artificial trees.
* Lowe's Home Improvement -- 5301 Sherwood Way. Carries real and artificial trees.
* Olive's Nursery -- 3402 Sherwood Way. Carries real and artificial trees.
* Sherz Landscape Co. -- 2225 Knickerbocker Road. Carries real trees.
* WalMart -- (all locations) Carries real and artificial trees.
Although Christmas tree fires are not common, they are much more likely to be deadly than most other fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
According to the NFPA, one out of every 32 reported home fires that began with a Christmas tree resulted in a death, compared to an average of one death per 143 total reported home fires.
The NFPA recommends people take the following safety precautions with their Christmas trees:
* Before placing the tree in the stand, cut 2 inches from the base of the trunk.
* Make sure the tree is at least three feet from any heat source, such as fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lights.
* Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit.
* Add water to the tree stand daily.
* Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory. Some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use.
* Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Read the manufacturer's instructions for number of light strands to connect.
* Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.
* Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.
* Get rid of the tree after Christmas. Dried-out trees are a fire danger and should not be left in the home or garage, or placed outside against the home. Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.
Real versus Artificial
There are benefits and drawbacks to buying either real or artificial Christmas trees, according to an article from USA TODAY.
People don't have to worry that buying a fresh Christmas tree will clear-cut the forest, according to the National Christmas Tree Association, which represents tree farmers.
Christmas trees are sustainably grown on farms, often on scrubby land that's not good for other crops, said pediatrician Alan Greene, author of "Raising Baby Green: The Earth-Friendly Guide to Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Care."
While they're growing, evergreens produce oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide, which helps reduce greenhouse gases, said Alicia Voorhies, co-founder of thesoftlanding.com, a website devoted to green living.
The biggest downside to a real tree? Many are grown with pesticides, Voorhies said.
Trees that are more susceptible to pests, such as Fraser firs, may need heavier pesticide treatment than others, said Jeff Gearhart of the Ecology Center, a Michigan-based advocacy group.
Locally grown, pesticide-free trees are becoming easier to find, however, Voorhies said. And she noted that many communities pick up Christmas trees for free and recycle them into mulch.
Some environmentalists advocate buying a live tree, which can be replanted in the spring. Keeping a Christmas tree alive all winter, however, isn't always easy. Greene, who lives near San Francisco, said his have never survived long enough to replant.
One solution? Some services actually rent live, potted Christmas trees, delivering them to your door before the holidays. The same companies then pick up the tree after Christmas and replant them in the woods.
Artificial trees have some environmental appeal because they can be re-used for decades, Greene said.
But artificial trees raise other environmental questions, he said.
Most plastic trees are made with PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, which often contains lead as a stabilizer, and they're often treated with chemical flame retardants, which have been linked to a number of health problems, Voorhies said. A small number of artificial trees are made with a safer alternative, called polyethylene plastic, she said.
The American Christmas Tree Association, which represents the artificial tree industry, notes that PVC has some environmental advantages. Producing PVC uses only 70 percent of the energy needed to make other plastics, which "translates into less carbon dioxide emissions, making it more environmentally friendly."
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