Choosing a Christmas tree

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There are ways to make the pursuit of the “perfect” Christmas tree an easy one, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

“One of the first things is to consider buying a real tree,” said Ron Wolford. “Why should you? An acre of Christmas trees provides for the daily oxygen requirements of 18 people. Christmas trees remove dust and pollen from the air. They also provide habitat for wildlife.

“Recycled trees have been used to make sand and soil erosion barriers. Artificial trees may last for a few years in your home, but they will last for centuries in a landfill. Plus, what can beat walking into a room with a real tree and smelling that wonderful Christmas tree aroma?” Wolford asked.

A good place to start the search for a real Christmas tree is at the University of Illinois Extension Web site, “Christmas Trees and More” (, which includes an extensive listing of Illinois tree farms. The Illinois Christmas Tree Association also has a listing of farms on its web site (

“You can do a little research on different Christmas tree types at Extension’s ‘Christmas Trees’ site ( For example, the Scotch pine has excellent needle retention with the needles hanging on for weeks even when they are dry, plus it keeps its aroma throughout the season,” said Wolford.

Before buying, decide on where you will place the tree. Will it be seen from all sides, or will some of it be up against a wall? Be sure to choose a spot away from heat sources, such as televisions, fireplaces, radiators, and air ducts. Place the tree clear of doors.

“Choose a tree that fits where it is to be displayed,” he said. “For example, if the tree is displayed in front of a large window, then all four sides should look as good as possible. If the tree is displayed against a wall, then a tree with three good sides would be OK.

“A tree with two good sides would work well in a corner. The more perfect a tree, the more expensive it is.”

Measure the height and width of the space you have available in the room where the tree will be placed.

“There is nothing worse than bringing a tree indoors only to find it’s too tall,” said Wolford. “Take a tape measure with you to measure your chosen tree and bring a cord to tie your tree to the car and a tarp to cover it to avoid exposure to drying winds.”

If choosing a tree from a retail lot, remember that trees sold on retail lots in urban areas may have come from out of state and been exposed to drying winds in transit. They may have been cut weeks earlier.

“Buy trees early before the best trees have been sold,” he recommended. “Ask the retailer whether his trees are delivered once at the beginning of the season or if they are delivered at different times during the selling season.”

Wolford urged choosing a fresh tree from the lot. A fresh tree will have a healthy, green appearance with few brown needles. Needles should be flexible and not fall off if you run a branch through your hand.

“Raise the tree a few inches off the ground and drop it on the butt end,” he said. “Very few green needles should drop off the tree. It is normal for a few inner brown needles to drop off.

“Make sure the handle or base of the tree is straight and at least 6 to 8 inches long so it will fit easily into the stand.”

If you decide to go to a cut-your-own farm, prepare for a day in the country. Wear comfortable shoes and old clothes. Bring rain gear if the weather is threatening. The “cutter-downers” and “loader-uppers” should also have gloves.

“Don’t forget the camera, but it’s best to leave the dogs at home,” he said. “If a pet is allowed and must come along, keep him on a leash at all times. Please don’t let him ‘mark’ other people’s trees.”

At the farm, go into the field and choose the tree fits your predetermined needs. Check the trunk to be sure that it is straight. Keep in mind that pines will usually have, at least, some crook in their trunks. Also, check to be sure that the tree has a sufficiently long handle to accommodate your stand.

“Most farms will provide saws,” he noted. “After you cut down your tree, many farms will net the tree to make transporting it easier.”

If you are not putting the tree up right away, store it in an unheated garage or some other area out of the wind and cold (freezing) temperatures. Make a fresh 1-inch cut on the butt end and place the tree in a bucket of warm water.

“When you decide to bring the tree indoors, make another fresh 1-inch cut and place the tree in a sturdy stand that holds at least one gallon of water,” Wolford said.

For other holiday-related information, Wolford recommended a number of U of I Extension web sites, including, The Poinsettia Pages ( and Turkey for the Holidays (

From the Nov. 29 – Dec. 5, 2006, issue

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