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How to Care for your Christmas Tree and Holiday Greens

I sat down with our tree expert (John Reed, who you’d recognize immediately by his huge hat if he’d let me take a picture of him) to get the skinny on Behnke’s trees and greens, and how to take care of them. Fortunately he was plenty forthcoming with information.

About our Trees

John credits Miri Talabac with buying our trees – both cut and live, and  in several species. After delivery, John makes sure the cut trees are all mounted on stands so that customers can see all sides, and also makes sure they’re all hosed down several times a day to keep them moist. (Something not all tree-sellers do, and I’m thinking he’s thinking of the big national chains.)

Care of cut Christmas trees

There are only two important points to care of Christmas trees, and the first is giving them a fresh cut.  Taking off  just 1/2″ to 1/4″ is important for getting water flowing up into the tree, but no problemo – Behnkes will do that for you!  So your only job is to keep water in their container.  Pretty easy.  You can also add some sugar or a product like Prolong to help the tree last its longest.  I asked if he advised buying trees as soon as they’re available or is it okay to wait until I get around to it later in December and his answer makes sense given what he’d just told me:  It doesn’t matter IF the people you buy it from have  kept the trees moist and out of the sun (like he does).

Care of Live trees

What about live trees?  The ones we can plant in our gardens after the holidays are over and done?  Well, it’s not quite that easy.  They can’t be kept indoors more than 5 days at most because they’re outdoor plants, after all, and can’t be expected to survive the Great Indoors for long and live to be transplanted into the garden.

About our wreaths and cut greens

There’s quite an assortment of species used for cut greens, so which does he think last the longest?  John recommends Frazier, Douglas, Concolor Fir, White Pine, or Scotch Pine.  Balsam is cheaper but not as long-lasting as the others.  He cares for them just as he does the trees – covers them with burlap to keep them out of the sun, and sprays them 3-4 times a day.

Care of wreaths and cut greens

Definitely don’t put your cut-green wreath between the storm door and the regular door, where they’d get the sauna effect.  Between the screen door and regular door is fine, though.  Keep wreaths out of sunlight if you can and if it has to be in the sun, spray it with water in the morning and evening.  John has that been-around-the-nursery look on his face when he mentions that this is something that nobody actually does.  (Hey, we’re all busy!)

About cutting greens from your own garden

John says to cut them only when you’re ready to use them (or if cut earlier, keep them moist and shaded until you’re ready to use them).   This is a actually good time to take cuttings from your evergreens because pruning them now won’t encourage them to start new growth (which would then be killed).  Be sure to make your cuts just above a branch, not just any old place.

Posted by Susan Harris. Photo of 18.5-foot Douglas fir at the White House by the Alves Family.

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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