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TONY MELTON: Nature provides plenty of Christmas decorations

November 25, 2018

Maybe there is still a little Christmas cheer in this old scrooge because I agreed to do a Christmas-decorating segment for our SCETV program “Making-It-Grow.” I truly love using natural and homemade things for decorating.

Pine cones have endless décor capabilities. Singly or in groups, natural, bleached or painted, hanging or on surfaces they bring the outside in. Gold, silver, or red pine cones can highlight any tree. Most gardeners hate sweetgum balls or cockle-burr seed but cluster a few, add a little paint, and presto, a beautiful ornament. Holly, nandina and pyracantha berries add splashes of color. Crepe myrtle seeds can be painted if other berries are scarce. Don’t forget the green. Holly, magnolia, conifer, and even smilax foliage makes excellent wreaths, swags and center pieces. Truly, the ideas are endless.

One of my fondest memories of my youth was searching the woods for that perfect cedar tree. One of the simple back-to-nature joys of Christmas is the pleasant fragrance and genuine beauty of a live Christmas tree. However, as with many time-honored traditions it isn’t easy to select and maintain a live Christmas tree. If you still have the real tree, put me on your party invitation list.

To check a tree that has already been cut, grasp a branch between your thumb and forefinger and pull toward you. Very few needles will come off if the tree is fresh. Next, take a few needles and bend them. If they spring back, the tree is fresh.

Be sure to look at the trunk. If you can see splits in the trunk, the tree most likely will have dried to a point where it will not take up water.

Now, bump the trunk of the tree on the ground. If green needles fall off the tree, it is not fresh. You can expect a few brown needles to fall from the tree. Choose another tree if too many brown needles fall off.

Trees that are growing in a field should be fresh and full of water. Select a tree that will fit your stand and into your house. Then gently shake the tree to see if any green needles fall. After that, break a few needles and check for fragrance.

Pines, firs and Leyland cypress will stay fresh longer than other trees. Cedars, spruces and cultivars of Arizona cypress stay fresh for a shorter time.

If your tree has been cut for more than one hour, recut at least one inch from the trunk and place the tree in plain water immediately. Make certain the container has sufficient capacity to keep the trunk in water all the time. A fresh tree may use more than a gallon of water a day. It is very important to check the water level each day. If the water dries out, the tree loses its ability to take up water. Adding water to a tree whose stump is out of water may make you feel better, but it won’t make the tree feel better. You could make a game of checking the water and get the whole family involved.

Remember, heat will dry your tree out. Keep the tree away from heat sources such as hot air ducts, radiators, fireplaces and television sets.

To protect your tree and your home, follow these additional fire safety tips:

Avoid combustible decorations.Always turn off your decorations before going to bed or leaving home.Never place candles or other open flame sources on or near your tree.Test your light cords before you put them on your tree. They should be in good working order and in good condition.

Your live Christmas tree will add to your holiday enjoyment, and if you just follow the simple steps listed above, it will also be a safe holiday.

The Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political belief, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer. Email Melton at amelton@clemson.edu.

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