Published on 12/16/98

Some Types of Cut Greenery Will Stay Fresh, Safe Longer

The cut greenery in your holiday decorations will dry out sooner or later, of course.

"But certain types of greenery stay fresh longer than others," said Dave Moorhead, an Extension Service forester with the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forest Resources.

Remembering that fact isn't just a decorating tip. It could help save your house. "Remember, all cut greenery is flammable when it's dry," Moorhead said.

Moorhead ranked the five most popular tree types by how quickly greenery from them will dry out. Red cedar will dry the fastest, followed by spruce, Leyland cypress, Balsam fir and Fraser fir.

Many people use the trimmings from their Christmas trees for greenery in their home decorations. Georgian s' favorite Christmas tree, the Leyland cypress, is somewhere in the middle when it comes to how quickly greenery from it will dry out.

Moorhead isn't sure how to rank non-Christmas tree greenery such as holly or magnolia. "They would probably be around the better end of the scale, though," he said.

"Of course, the Christmas tree will stay fresh longer than cut greenery, since it's in a stand full of water," Moorhead said. "Be sure to check the stand every day. Add water as needed to keep the tree moist and less prone to fire."

Keeping cut greenery fresh is harder to do. Greenery loses most of its water from the multitude of needles, so sealing the cut end with wax does little to slow drying.

"It certainly keeps the sap in the branch, protecting your furnishings," he said. "But it won't do much to keep moisture in the leaves."

To keep greenery as fresh as possible, Moorhead suggests cutting it just before you use it. Or keep it in a bucket of water until you put it up. Then check the greenery in your decorations daily for freshness.

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J. Cannon, UGA CAES

BENDING NEEDLES show this branch is still fresh. If you try to bend the needles or branch and it breaks, it's dry and a fire hazard --ÿ it's time to replace the whole branch. Greenery dries out quickly in relatively dry, warm homes, so check cut greenery daily and replace it as needed.

"Try bending the needles," he said. "If they bend, it's fresh. If they break or crumble, it's time to replace the whole branch."

Lightly misting the greenery with fresh water can help it stay moist, too. But be careful of getting water drops onto furniture, where it can cause water stains.

No matter how fresh the greenery, keeping possible ignition sources away from it is the surest way to prevent fires.

"A lot of people like to use lit candles in their decorations right along with fresh greenery," Moorhead said. If you choose to do that, don't leave the lit candles alone for a minute. "You surely don't want to have your supper interrupted by candles setting your living room decorations on fire."

Other ignition sources may include lit fireplaces, space heaters and damaged wiring on electrical lights.

Greenery or wreaths bought from florists or specialty stores have probably been treated with flame retardants, Moorhead said.

"But flame retardants or flame-resistant sprays don't prevent fires completely," he said. "You have to keep a good eye on cut greenery and get rid of crumbly-dry pieces that can be a fire hazard no matter what's sprayed on them."

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