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Should your Christmas tree be real or artificial?

Real vs. fake? The annual Christmas tree debate rages every year starting right after Thanksgiving and continuing right up until the big guy slides down the chimney.

Live trees smell great, and are a renewable, recyclable resource. Buy a potted one and you can plant it in the yard.

But you'll have to water it, you need a new one every year, and it may not be good choice if you have allergy sufferers at home.

A good artificial tree can last for years. Some are even prelit. But there has been controversy in recent years over the possibility of toxins such as lead. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says you'll be fine as long you wash your hands after contact and don't let the kids chew on the trees.

Both real and fake trees can be fire hazards, although artificial trees should be fire-resistant. Typically, shorts in electrical lights or open flames from candles, lighters or matches start tree fires.

Place your tree away from the fireplace or other heat sources, and inspect lights for broken sockets, loose connections or damaged wires. Lights should be UL-approved. Don't use more than three light strands plugged together, and turn off lights when you go to bed or leave the house.

Keep breakable ornaments on higher branches where young children and pets can't reach them.

After the holiday, resist the temptation to use your natural tree to fuel a merry blaze in the hearth. The creosote in the tree can coat your chimney and create a fire hazard.

The real thing

1 Look for green needles and a trunk sticky with sap. Pine and spruce needles should bend (not break). Fir needles should snap when bent. Tap the tree on the ground to see if a lot of needles fall off.

2 You can find a tree farm by contacting the Florida Christmas Tree Association at (352) 357-9863 or visiting www. Florida-grown trees include Virginia pine, sand pine, leyland cypress and Arizona cypress.

3 Cut off about 2 inches of the trunk and put the tree in a sturdy stand that holds water, and keep it filled.

4 If you have mold allergies, keep a live tree indoors for only four to seven days. Running an air cleaner in the same room as the tree may help reduce mold exposure.

5 Match your tree to your needs. The Colorado blue spruce has very sharp needles. The noble fir has stiff branches, great for heavy ornaments. Leyland cypress has virtually no aroma; balsam fir is highly aromatic. Visit www. to learn more about trees.

Fabulous fakes

1 Look for artificial trees tested and labeled fire-resistant.

2 Artificial trees with built-in electrical systems should have the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) label. Lights should have "anti-twist" bulbs that don't all turn off when one burns out.

3 If you can't inspect the tree before you buy, check the description for the number of branch tips. The more it has, the better the quality and the less chance you'll see the center pole. Tips with color and texture variations are more realistic than single-color tips.

4 Get a good stand to protect your floor and keep the loaded tree up.

5 Hooked vs. hinged: A hooked tree is cheaper, but means tedious assembly. Hinged branches fold like an umbrella.

6 Check the product label to see if the tree is made from PVC plastic and if it may contain lead. Wash your hands after touching the tree.

7 Store the tree in a location with low humidity and temperatures below 90 degrees to prevent discoloring. (In Florida that means an indoor closet.)

Should your Christmas tree be real or artificial? 11/28/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 10:31am]
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