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October 31, 2014

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Preparing for Santa: A guide to Christmas tree shopping in Las Vegas

Find the type of tree that best fits your household and keep it fresh until the big day

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Leila Navidi

Tree lot attendant Rick Moore shows off the largest tree for sale, retailing at $350, at Frosty’s Christmas Trees in Las Vegas on Thursday, November 29, 2012.

The holiday season brings with it so many questions: What can Santa afford this year? Who should we take off, or add to, our Christmas card list? Should we buy new lights? Will the Christmas tree be tinder-dry before Dec. 25, its brittle, hard needles falling off stiffening branches? Well, we can answer that last question. Some experts helped develop this practical guide for selecting a tree and keeping it supple and fragrant into the new year.

    • What are the most popular Christmas trees?

      The noble fir and Douglas fir are the most common trees at nurseries and tree lots in town. The grand and Fraser firs also are popular. These trees are grown in Oregon, but some locations such as Deerbrooke Farm also carry trees from Washington. Trees shipped from North Carolina also can be found in the valley.

    • What distinguishes the different trees?

      Different tree species have characteristics that make them better suited to certain households, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. The noble fir, known for its endurance and stiff branches, is a good tree to carry heavy ornaments. Frasers are known for their form, needle retention and dark blue-green color, and the grand fir maintains its thick foliage when sheared. If you’re looking for something with soft needles, the Douglas fir fits the bill.

    • How fresh are the trees on the lot? Should I wait longer to get a fresher one?

      Michael McConnell, a salesperson at Moon Valley Nurseries’ southeast location, said there is about a three-day turnaround between when trees are cut and when they are delivered to the store. Annette Larsen, a district manager at Star Nursery, said they receive several shipments, with the last one being on or about Dec. 15. In general, stores said they receive multiple shipments, so you can hold off to get a fresher tree. However, be aware that shipment dates vary between stores, and some trees can sit on the lot longer than average.

      But with proper attention and care, a cut tree that’s bought now should get you through Christmas day.

    • What should I look for when I’m buying a tree?

      Run a branch through your closed hand, or pick the tree off the ground and shake it or bang the trunk back on the ground. If more than a few loose needles are shed, keep looking. Bend the branches; the more pliable, the better. And avoid trees with discolored foliage, a musty odor and wrinkled bark.

    • What’s the best way to keep a tree fresh?

      Cut an inch or so off the bottom of the trunk to remove a seal of sap that forms to lock in moisture after a tree is cut. The fresh cut will allow the tree to take in more water. But don’t drill a hole up the trunk; that will accomplish nothing unless you need it to accommodate the spike in the tree stand. As a general rule, tree stands should provide 1 quart of water per inch of stem diameter; check daily to make sure the bottom of the trunk is in water. With water, a tree should last a month.

    • What about bringing home a live tree in its pot? Is it more expensive, and what are the benefits?

      You can find live eldarica pines at places like Moon Valley Nursery and Star Nursery. Star also carries Norfolk pine. These trees can be more expensive, but after Christmas, you can take it outdoors and plant it in your yard or donate it to a church or park, Larsen suggested.

    • What is flocking, and is it harmful to the tree or to my pet?

      Flocking, to give the sense of snow, is a white corn starch mixture that does double duty as a flame-retardant. Brian Bintz, a salesman at Deerbrooke, said the mix is usually too tightly stuck on the tree to be a risk to pets.

      Other flocking ingredients can include latex and glue, and several valley nurseries and tree lots said they use nontoxic flocking. The inclusion of a flame retardant has led some officials to recommend flocking trees, and flocking can act to prevent needles from falling, which may help a tree last longer.

    • Does it help to put aspirin, 7-Up or sugar in the water, place a humidifier nearby or lower the house temperature?

      Aspirin is said to help the tree absorb nutrients, but the benefits are insignificant. Sugar or 7-Up? Don’t bother. While turning down the thermostat or using a humidifier makes sense in theory, UNLV plant physiologist Paul Schulte pointed out that small efforts probably won’t make much of a difference in Nevada’s dry and warm climate.

      “People aren’t going to turn their thermostats down to 55,” he said.

      It is wise, though, to keep the tree away from a fireplace, heating vent or sunny window, if possible.

    • Where can I cut down my own Christmas tree?

      Neither the Bureau of Land Management nor the National Forest Service provide permits for tree cutting in Las Vegas.

      “We do have a problem with it, people coming in and just cutting down trees,” said Carol Hotchkiss, acting recreation staff officer for Springs Mountain National Recreation Area, which includes Mount Charleston. “We don’t have a lot of land. We don’t have a lot of trees.”

      Visitors can’t remove trees from the area, even dead ones. Those in search of their perfect, choppable tree can travel 150 miles to Caliente, the nearest BLM location in Nevada that allows tree harvesting.

      Mike Fewell, a civil engineering technician in the Caliente BLM office, said the site gets most of its business from Las Vegas locals. The area, which is remote, offers $4 tree tags for Pinion pine and the nontraditional juniper trees. Locals might also travel the 125 miles to St. George, Utah, where the St. George Interagency Visitor Center offers tags on the same trees at $10 a piece. Those willing to travel a bit further can find different varieties, including fir, in Arizona.

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