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In November and December, "buying local" can mean buying a Christmas tree from an area grower.

Between Iowa and Illinois, there are more than 100 choose-and-harvest farms, where the top-sellers are Scotch and white pine.

Here are some questions about fresh trees, with answers from horticulturists at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach in Ames.

Q: What should I look for?

A: Before you leave home, check the size of your tree stand. You do not want to buy a tree with a diameter too big to fit the stand.

Then select a tree with a straight trunk because that will be much easier to set upright in the stand. A tree with a bare side may be fine if you intend to place it in a corner or against a wall.

Q: How can I determine the freshness of a cut Christmas tree?

A: Gently run your hand over a branch. The needles on a fresh tree will be pliable. Those on a dry tree will be brittle. Another test is to lift the tree by the trunk and lightly bounce the butt on the ground. Heavy needle drop indicates a dry tree. A fresh tree will drop only a few needles.

Q: What is the best way to store a cut Christmas tree?

A: If you don’t intend to set the tree up immediately, place it in a cool, sheltered location. An unheated garage or shed is often a suitable storage site. (The sun and wind dries out trees that are stored outdoors.) Put the butt of the tree in a bucket of water. Cut off the bottom 1 inch of the tree’s trunk before bringing the tree in the house. A fresh cut facilitates water uptake.

Q: Should I add any material to the water to prolong the freshness of my Christmas tree?

A: Do not add molasses, sugar, soft drinks, aspirin or commercial products to the water. Additives provide no real benefit.

The keys to keeping a Christmas tree fresh are to place the tree away from any heat sources (fireplace, heater, radiator, etc.) and keep the tree reservoir full of water.

Check the tree reservoir at least once or twice a day, especially in the first few days when uptake is fastest. If the water level drops below the bottom of the trunk, water uptake will be drastically reduced or cease when the reservoir is refilled.

Q: How long can a cut Christmas tree remain in the house?

A: This is determined by the tree species, the freshness of the tree at the time of purchase, its placement and its care in the home. In general, a fresh, well-cared-for Christmas tree should be able to remain in the home for three to four weeks. Remove the tree from the house when its needles become dry and brittle.

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