Question: We plan to cut the family Christmas tree this weekend and are wondering what we can do to keep it fresh throughout the holiday season.

Answer: There are several things you can do that will help maintain the moisture content and thereby extend the life of the tree. For beginners, you should re-cut the base of the tree trunk once you get it home. Simply make a fresh cut to remove a 1/2 to ?-inch-thick disk of wood from the butt end of the trunk before putting the tree in the stand. Make the cut perpendicular to the stem axis. Don't cut the trunk at an angle, or into a "v" shape, which makes it far more difficult to hold the tree in the stand and also reduces the amount of water available to the tree. If you use a "center pin" stand, make sure the hole is drilled in the stem before it is trimmed. Don't bruise the cut surface or get it dirty. Put the tree in water just as soon as possible after re-cutting the trunk.

Unfortunately, many tree stands do not provide adequate water holding capacity for the tree. As a general rule, stands should provide 1 quart of water per inch of stem diameter. Cut Christmas trees generally consume about one quart of water per day per inch of stem diameter. Species such as Noble and Fraser Fir tend to use large quantities of water over extended display periods.

A typical 6 foot tall Noble or Fraser fir can easily use 4 quarts of water per day during the first week, and 2- to 3-quarts per day thereafter for the next three to four weeks. A 6- or 7-foot sheared Douglas fir tree, common on today's market, can use up to four gallons of water the first week it's in the house. The water level should be maintained above the base of the tree. With many stands, there can still be water in the stand, even though the tree is no longer submerged in water. Drilling a hole in the base of the tree or cutting the butt end at an angle does not increase water uptake. The temperature of the water is not important and does not affect water uptake.

Do not use additives in the water, including floral preservatives, commercial tree preservatives, molasses, sugar, bleach, soft drinks, aspirin, honey and other concoctions. Some additives can damage trees and or decrease the water uptake from the stand. Clean water is all that is needed to maintain freshness. By the same token, applying film forming anti-transpirants to the tree does not have a significant effect on the rate of moisture loss from the tree. These products are advertised as supposedly blocking the evaporation of water from the surface of the foliage, but in reality have little effect.

Question: We are curious - can we grow our own cranberries in the garden?

Answer: You certainly could grow a few cranberry plants in your garden, but unfortunately, the yields would more than likely disappoint you. Like most agricultural crops, cranberries have very specific cultural requirements. They require either a peat or sandy soil with good drainage, summer irrigation, and protection from the frost when in bloom, sufficient bee populations for good pollination, and on-going weed, insect and disease control. On a small scale, harvesting the fruit could be accomplished by hand picking, but remember, it takes approximately 440 cranberries to make a pound and 440, 000 berries to make a gallon of juice!

Cranberries in any form are good for you. In addition to being a source of Vitamin C and A, potassium and fiber, cranberries have other nutritional benefits. They are also being linked to cardiovascular and urinary tract health and prevention of dental plaque, cancer and ulcers. And if that's not enough, a half cup cranberries contains only 22 calories!

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