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NAPLES — As Christmas inches closer, Southwest Floridians are flocking to Christmas tree lots throughout Collier and Lee counties to pick out the perfect tree for Santa to place the presents under.
Experts say there are several steps people should take before they buy a real Christmas tree.
Measure your space: Experts with the National Christmas Tree Association said the first step to picking the perfect tree is to measure the space where it will go. Buyers should know the size — height and width — they want before heading to a retail lot, because trees on a lot may look small when there is no ceiling. Mark Scott, a manager at the Home Depot on Pine Ridge Road, said 7- to 8-foot trees are some of the top-selling trees in Southwest Florida.
Check for freshness: When checking to see if the tree is fresh, buyers should run a branch through their enclosed hand. The tree's needles shouldn't come off easily. The outer branches also should bend easily; a brittle branch is a sign the tree is too dry.
Heidi Heath, who operates an independent tree stand on U.S. 41 in Naples, said Southwest Florida's warm and humid weather is good when it comes to freshness.
"The humidity is better than the cold," she said. "Trees stay fresher."
When in doubt, move on: Rick Dungey, a spokesman for the National Christmas Tree Association, said buyers shouldn't just buy a tree because they're loyal to the species or stand. Dungey said customers should look for a stand that doesn't display many trees out in the open or in the sun, since they dry out easily that way.
"If in doubt, pick a different tree," he said.
Make a fresh cut: Once you've found your tree, make a fresh cut to remove about a half-inch disk of wood from the base of the truck. Don't cut it at an angle.
Put it in water, quickly: Experts at the National Christmas Tree Association say the tree should be put in water "as soon as possible," but that most species can last six- to eight hours after cutting the trunk. Heath said owners shouldn't risk it, and instead suggested they get their tree in the water within an hour of that trunk cut.
Water it often: Heath said the tree stand should be kept full and people should check water levels daily. Keeping water levels high is the best way to keep the tree alive for the whole holiday season. But Scott said there's one other trick he tells shoppers: Crush up a couple of aspirin and drop it in with the water. Scott said he gave one couple this tip, and when they came back a year later they told him they "didn't take down the tree until St. Patrick's Day" because it still looked fresh.