A fresh-cut Christmas tree adds instant holiday spirit to any home.
But when shopping for a pre-cut tree, how do you know a fir is really fresh and that it will last to Christmas?
Members of the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association, which supplies more than 90 percent of the pre-cut fresh trees in California, offer these tips for finding a fresh tree and keeping it that way:
Before heading to the retail lot, be sure you know what size (height and width) you really need. It's easy to buy a tree that won't fit in your space. No room for a 6-footer? Smaller trees can make a great tabletop display for apartments or condos.
Use the "smell and snap" test. Give a branch a gentle crush and smell the needles to check for a clean Christmas tree fragrance. Then, bend a single needle between your fingers. If it snaps like a carrot, the tree is fresh.
Look for other indicators of dryness or deterioration. Those include excessive needle loss, discolored foliage and wrinkled bark or a musty, mildewlike smell.
When in doubt about the freshness of a tree, select another one. If none of the trees on the lot looks fresh, go to another lot.
Make a fresh cut on the bottom of the tree to open up the pores, which have been clogged by sap. Cut off at least a half-inch and place the tree in a sturdy stand that will hold at least one gallon of water.
Add fresh, plain water to the tree stand every day. An average tree may consume between a quart and a gallon of water per day. If the water level drops below the cut end of the trunk, a seal will form and no more water will be absorbed by the tree unless another fresh cut is made. Just keep the water reservoir topped off.
For more tips and a shopping guide, click on www.nwchristmastrees.org.
Want to cut your own tree? Check out our local tree farm map at http://www.sacbee.com/holidays
Yes, you can grow vegetables in December. (That's why we love living in California.) Take a break from the holiday hoopla and work on your garden.
Transplant asparagus roots along with seedlings for bok choy, kale and leaf lettuce.
Seed directly into garden beds fava beans, broccoli, mustard, radicchio and radishes. Also, plant onion sets and garlic.
Start indoors early spring annuals such as aster, calendula, cornflower and cosmos.
Seeds for California poppy and echinacea can be planted directly in the garden.