Ask the Master Gardener: Lots to Consider When Picking a Christmas Tree – Brainerd Dispatch

Dear master gardener: We’re getting a real Christmas tree this year. What is the difference between the different trees?

answers: Most tree lots bear fresh pine, spruce and fir. As you can imagine, each variety has its pros and cons. You should consider not only the scent, but also the color, ability to hold lights and heavy ornaments, and price.

Scots pine (also called Scotch pine) is probably the cheapest. Its needles are 2-3 inches long and its branches are sturdy enough to support fairly heavy ornaments. Pines have the best needle retention. White Pine is a bluish-green Minnesota native with very fragrant and delicate needles 3 to 4 inches long. It is best decorated with light ornaments. Red pine, also known as Norwegian pine, another Minnesota native, has stiffer, shorter needles than white pine and tends to have more space between branches. White spruce, another native species, has the shortest needles of all, about half an inch. It is denser than the pines and has an odor that some find slightly objectionable. Balsam, Fraser and Canaan firs have been some of the most popular trees in recent years. They have a beautiful silver cast and are the most fragrant of all trees. The Fraser Fir has the sturdiest branches and is also the most expensive.

Before making your final decision, shake a tree or gently run your hand over a branch to test freshness. If more than a few needles fall off, it’s too dry and you need to choose another tree.

When you bring the tree home, cut off a 1-inch piece and immediately submerge the tree in water in a sturdy stand. Make sure the cut end of the tree is always submerged while the tree is indoors. You may be surprised that initially the tree absorbs a liter of water a day, so check several times a day and keep the stand filled. When the stand becomes dry, the cut seals, water absorption stops, and the tree quickly dries up. Contrary to popular wisdom, research shows that nothing like aspirin or sugar added to tree water makes the tree last longer or stay healthier. A real tree requires more work and attention than an artificial one, but the color, scent, and knowing you’re using a renewable resource bring great satisfaction.

Dear master gardener: Which Houseplants Survive Low Light Conditions?

Chinese periwinkles are one of many types of plants that grow well in low light.

Contributed / Jennifer Knutson

answers: Low light conditions mean little to no direct light. This is usually a north window. Here is a list of some low light plants: Chinese Periwinkle, Cast Iron Plant, Dieffenbachia, Dracaena, English Ivy, Pothos, Philodendron, Snake Plant (Sansevieria), Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum). Arrowhead Plant, Zee-Zee Plant. These plants don’t dry out quickly, so check the soil before watering. If it’s cool and damp, it doesn’t need to be watered just yet.

  • The best way to keep icy sidewalks, steps, and driveways safe without damaging nearby plants is to rely primarily on sand, grit, or cheap clay cat litter rather than de-icing products. Deicer eventually drains and collects in the ground. The more you use during the winter, the more likely it is that your weed and plants will be “burned” by the salt.
  • Poinsettias are easy-care holiday plants. Make sure you get them (and any plants) home without cold damage. Plants should be well wrapped, then transported in a heated vehicle and not left in the car while doing other shopping. Cut off the underside of the foil or other decorative covering (or punch holes in the underside) to allow excess water to drain, and place your poinsettia in bright, indirect light. Water thoroughly when the soil surface begins to dry. And contrary to popular belief, they are not poisonous. Like other plants in the Euphorbiaceae family, they have a milky sap, but it can irritate the skin.
  • If you haven’t already, clean and oil garden tool blades and wooden handles to prolong their life and appearance.
  • Check for dahlia, calla lily, and canna bulbs. Discard tubers that have shriveled badly, developed tender spots, smell funny, or show signs of rot.
  • Check your produce, like potatoes or winter squash, that you store. If something has shrunk, developed soft spots, smells funny, or shows signs of rot, discard it. When potatoes sprout, it means they are not being kept cool enough. If they turn green, they’re exposed to too much light.
  • If dust has accumulated on your houseplants, clean them with lukewarm water. Don’t use leaf polish products, even “natural” ones like milk or mayonnaise. They leave residue that attracts more dust. Look for insects, especially on the underside of the leaves.
  • Share the gardening season by framing your best flower and garden photos or creating and gifting note cards.
  • DIY amaryllis and paper white daffodil kits make great gifts for those in need of some gardening fun!
  • Monitor your trees and shrubs for damage caused by deer and rabbits. Apply repellants and fences to minimize damage.
  • Check your houseplants regularly during the winter months for signs of insects or disease. Some signs of insect problems include fine webs, discolored foliage, or shiny, sticky spots on the leaves. Wipe bugs and dust off the leaves (top and bottom) with a clean, damp cloth.
  • Do not fertilize houseplants at this time of year. Due to low light and poor growing conditions, plants require very few nutrients.
  • Let it Snow! Snow insulates and protects plants from winter through spring.

Your gardening questions can be answered by calling the new Master Gardener Help Line at 218-824-1068 and leaving a message. A master gardener will call you back. Or email me at [email protected] and I will reply you in the column if space allows.

University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension. The information in this column is based on university research.



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