As we set our clocks back and the weather gets colder, many people begin preparing for what they consider to be the best time of year: the Christmas holiday season. Every year, families begin preparing for the holiday season as early as October or November, with millions flocking to their local tree farm to chop down the perfect live tree. While live Christmas trees are a wonderful decoration and a time-honored holiday tradition, they also pose potential safety hazards to your home and members of your household. This overview will help you understand the potential risks of live Christmas trees and how to avoid them.

Getting the Tree

Finding the perfect Christmas tree can be a memorable family experience. While some people prefer to pick up an already cut and wrapped tree from a nearby store, visiting a local tree farm and chopping down your own tree makes for an exciting adventure and helps ensure your tree is as fresh as possible. However, cutting down your first evergreen requires a little preparation.

What to bring

Although it sounds easy in theory, cutting your own Christmas tree requires a bit of work since you will be cutting down the live tree from its natural habitat and taking it home. Although millions of Americans do this every year, a little prep work can help ensure the process goes smoothly. Some things to consider bringing include:

  • Proper footwear: It is important to bring appropriate footwear since you will be trudging around a farm where pine needles, tree stumps and other shrubberies present potential hazards, especially for children running around in excitement. Be sure to grab a pair of sturdy boots to keep yourself safe
  • Old clothing: Even if you are planning on the perfect photo-op with your new tree, it is best to wear older clothing that you do not mind getting damaged. Loose needles and bark could easily snag your sleeves and cause large rips in the fabric.
  • Thick gloves: Cutting through a tree trunk requires a firm grip on the saw, which having a nice pair of thick gloves can help to make the process easier while protecting your hands. Additionally, many pick-and-cut style tree farms require you to drag your freshly cut tree to a packing station. Between the tree bark and loose needles, your hands are likely to get scratched up without proper protection.
  • A sheet of plastic, tarp or blanket: Having something to wrap your tree in will help when loading it onto your vehicle. This material will act as a protective barrier so the tree does not damage your vehicle’s paint.
  • Ropes or cargo straps: Be prepared to secure your tree for transport. A falling tree can be extremely dangerous to other drivers and could even cause an accident. Be sure to bring enough rope, bungee cords, ratchet straps or whatever else you need to make sure the tree won’t go anywhere until you are ready to take it off the vehicle.

Although it varies by location, most tree farms usually provide saws or axes for cutting the tree that you can borrow and return once you are done using them. The farm should also have a mechanical shaker on site, which rapidly shakes the tree to dislodge any bugs, animals or loose branches. These machines are often connected to a baler, which will wrap the tree up with netting for easier transport. Before you visit any Christmas tree farm, consider inquiring with the farm directly to check that these features are included. If not, you will need to bring additional materials than those listed above.

Transporting your tree home

Imagine you have found the perfect tree, cut it down and paid only to find that it does not fit on your vehicle or worse, in your home. If it does fit on or in your vehicle, you may wonder what the best way to secure it is. Although getting your tree home can be difficult, these tips can help make the process easier:

  • Make sure to measure your car and home so you know what size tree is right for you.
  • Wrap the tree up in a blanket and make sure the stump faces the front of the car so the tree does not get damaged by the wind on the way home.
  • If you have a roof rack, it helps to secure the tree from where the branches start to its tip.
  • If your vehicle does not have a roof rack, first open all your car doors — not the windows — and tie the tree to the roof with rope. The hold should be snug to the roof.
  • For trees that extend more than a couple feet beyond your car’s bumpers, tie a reflective flag to the end to alert other drivers.
  • In case of an accident with the tree, it is important to have good car insurance
  • Look into who is responsible for damage if the tree does fall.
  • Driving within the posted speed limit with the tree secured to your vehicle. Be sure to leave a safe driving distance between you and the cars ahead of you.

Best times to get a tree

With retail stores being full of decorations and wrapping paper earlier each year, it is no surprise that many families start the holiday season before December. Getting a live tree means balancing supply and demand with tree health and longevity. If you are considering a live tree this year, consider which of the following aspects matters most:

  • If you want the maximum selection of available trees, going as soon as your local tree farm opens is your best bet. Many families select their tree the weekend after Thanksgiving, so going sometime that week should allow you to pick the cream of the crop. However, you’ll want to make sure you select a healthy tree and keep it watered. Otherwise, it may not make it to Christmas.
  • If you are fine waiting until the last minute to grab your tree, you may be able to find a great deal as suppliers will need to clear out their inventory, particularly at pop-up farms that have pre-cut trees available. However, as Christmas approaches, supplies will dwindle and you may not get your first choice of the type of tree you bring home.

What to watch for: tree safety in the home

While it may be a comedic trope in some of our favorite holiday films, a tree that gets knocked over or goes up in flames is no laughing matter in real life. As mentioned above, decorating-related injuries happen every day during the holiday season and nothing ruins the joy of holidays like a serious injury and the accompanying medical bills. Christmas trees even present a potential fire hazard to your home. When decorating your live tree this year, be sure to follow these safety tips:

  1. Use lights that emit little to no heat to reduce the amount of drying that happens to the tree
  2. Make sure to adequately water the tree. You can either do this yourself daily or get an automatic watering system.
  3. Always turn the Christmas tree lights off before leaving the house or going to sleep to reduce the risk of a fire.
  4. Do not overload electrical circuits, as this is another fire hazard.
  5. Put the tree into the stand properly so it is secure and less likely to fall on someone and hurt them.
  6. Place the tree in a location where there is little foot traffic to reduce the likelihood that someone will trip on the tree skirt or presents placed beneath the branches.
  7. Remember that fires start from dry trees, so it is important to continue to check how fresh the tree is and prevent it from drying out.
  8. There are many risks in the home and it is important to have home insurance in case any of these situations happen to you. Home insurance can offer financial protection for your personal items and home should any covered accidents occur.

Holiday safety for children and pets

Although Christmas trees can be a safety hazard for anyone, there are many other holiday decorations that pose a potential threat to members of your household. Children and pets are especially susceptible to decoration-related injuries, especially young children or pets who are new to the house and have not experienced a Christmas season before. Be wary of the following decorations that can pose a threat if you have children and pets in your home:

  • Besides the lights on the tree, candles can be dangerous around the home at any time. Open flames are a fire risk, especially around children and pets. Most cases of candle fires are caused by children under five years old and adults 65 and older, but kids were more likely to get hurt
  • Some holiday plants can be harmful if they are ingested. Many of these plants, like holly and mistletoe can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and other stomach problems. Lilies and poinsettias are dangerous and potentially lethal for cats and dogs if ingested. Water or dirt from the tree or these plants can also be harmful due to the fertilizers that are used to keep them growing
  • Decorations like tinsel are a choking hazard for both children and pets. While it may be pretty and look like a toy, it is important to keep it out of reach from them.
  • Wires and increased outlet usage can cause burns or electrical shock.
  • Ornaments, plastic and glass can cause bad cuts.

How to dispose of your tree after the holidays

Practicing Christmas tree safety does not end just because Christmas is over. Live trees usually get very dry by January and should be disposed of properly so as to not pose any safety risks to your family or your home. If you are also concerned with the safety of your local ecosystem, there are many ways to dispose of your tree that will pose a lower negative environmental impact. While disposal methods vary by county, here are a few places to start:

  • If you live in the city or a rural neighborhood, most municipalities will provide its residents with specific dates in which you can put your tree out for pick-up and disposal. Some areas may require the tree be cut into smaller pieces.
  • If you live in a wooded area, you can always put the tree back into the woods where wildlife can utilize it as a nest and it will decompose naturally.
  • If you live in a coastal area, check to see if your town uses old Christmas trees for erosion control or rebuilding sand dunes.
  • If you enjoy sitting around the fire pit in the summer months, Christmas trees can make great kindling. Simply chop it up into smaller pieces and store them in a dry place until you are ready to use the logs. Remember to always check town ordinances before burning and never use a Christmas tree for indoor kindling, as evergreen sap can burn quickly and lead to explosions.
  • Consider taking the tree to a tree recycling program so it can be chipped up. The tree farm where you originally purchased your tree may even know of a place.

While artificial trees can be more cost-effective in the long run, many Christmas lovers agree that artificial trees do not compare in offering the same Christmas atmosphere that a real tree provides. Not only is finding the perfect tree a fun holiday tradition, but evergreens are sustainable, recyclable and can smell incredible through the whole season. However, it is still important not to let all the excitement and benefits overshadow the fact that there are potential hazards associated with picking a live tree.

Real trees require careful maintenance and proper care, from chopping it down and transporting it home to stringing it with lights and securing it in its base. As long as you consider the potential safety risks listed above, you can more safely enjoy this incredible holiday decoration year after year.

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