Choose a Safe Christmas Tree

Not all evergreen trees are equally fire resistant. The Douglas fir is the most fire resistant tree, while the popular Fraser fir is the most combustible. Freshness has nothing to do with it. Douglas fir is a low-resin tree while Fraser fir is a high-resin tree.

Assuring that your Christmas tree is a fire-safe tree begins with selecting the right tree. The State of Maryland fire marshal has declared that the most fire-resistant species are Douglas fir, Colorado spruce and Scots pine. This conclusion is based on studies conducted in 1995 and 1996, using fresh-cut trees stored in water prior to igniting.

Next, choose a fresh-cut tree. The sooner after cutting you purchase that tree — if you care for it properly — the more fire resistant it will be.

As soon as you purchase the tree, cut at least one inch from the base of the trunk and dunk the stem immediately into a pail of 100-degree water. Store the tree in a shaded area. Adding a flower preservative also helps extend the tree’s life.

When you bring the tree indoors, cut off another inch of wood from the base and place the stem into a clean tree stand that will hold at least one gallon of water. Adding floral preservative to the water in the tree stand also assures a longer shelf-life, which makes the tree more fire resistant — providing you always maintain a constant water level.

Avoid placing the tree near a heat register or radiator, and use only UL-approved lights in good condition. Never leave a lighted tree without supervision, and don’t wait for the tree to start dropping needles before removing it from your home.

How Christmas Trees Get Their Shape

Q I planted 100 concolor fir seedlings about five years ago. It’s been a struggle, but some are starting to look like Christmas trees. Main problem right now is that the central leader gets too long and branches off before I can prune it to about a foot long from the last whorl of branches. Can I prune it after the leader branches and below the branching? Some of the leaders got to two feet or so and will have a big break in the middle of the tree if they are not pruned.

–George Leonnig, Upper Marlboro

A: With regards to pruning fir trees into Christmas trees, I do not touch the leader until the tree grows to about six feet. Then I cut the leader at six inches. If you prune the leader when the trees are smaller than six feet, you will be growing fat trees. By allowing the tree to grow to six feet before pruning it, you will be developing narrow-shaped trees, and the top will fill out. From this point on, I allow the leader to grow to only eight to 10 inches each year.

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