Published on 11/24/97

Crayon-green Christmas Trees Brighten Holidays

Coloring Christmas 
COLORING CHRISTMAS TREES provides long-lasting, safe color for holiday decorators. Dave Moorhead, a UGA Extension Service forester said the tree needles absorb the color and stay green through the holidays. Though the needles stay green, it's not a reliable indicator of freshness. Check the water level in the tree stand daily and add fresh water to keep the water level above the bottom of the tree trunk. (Photo courtesy the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)
Even shoppers who insist on a natural, live Christmas tree almost always take home an artificially colored tree. And in this case, what you didn't know won't hurt you, says a University of Georgia scientist.

"The pigment in the colorant is the same thing you find in children's crayons," said David Moorhead, an Extension Service forester with the UGA D.B. Warnell School of Forest Resources.

"There's not a problem with the colorant in terms of its being a toxic material," he said. "It's a very safe product."

Moorhead said farmers spray the colorant on some tree species to help them stay a rich, dark green. Many trees lose their color during late fall and may turn yellowish- or reddish-green. The spray-on pigment keeps them green for the holidays.

Tree farmers prepare their trees with colorant long before the holiday sales begin.

"We've found that gives the colorant on the tree time to mellow out and look more natural," said Judy Brewer, who sprays trees on her Liberty County farm in early September.

Brewer said most shoppers at her family's 25-acre choose-and- cut farm prefer the colorized trees. "Even if they say they want an unsprayed tree," she said, "they can see the difference, and most of them change their minds."

Once farmers apply the colorant, it stays put, Moorhead said. "The trees typically are very well cared for in the field," he said.

Applying the colorant early allows the color to dry completely on the needles and stay colorfast through the holiday season. The color won't come off on you, your children, pets, gifts, ornaments or other decorations, Moorhead said.

Brewer said the tree needles absorb the colorant and gain some protection against moisture loss. "It's kind of like makeup for trees," she said. "It really beautifies and protects them."

The colorant, though, won't keep the tree fresh through the holidays. The trick to doing that is to keep the tree stand filled with plenty of water. Sugar, bleach, aspirin or clear sodas can't help the tree take up water. Dry trees are much less fire resistant, and just a spark can set them ablaze.