Choosing the perfect Christmas tree

By U of I Extension

URBANA, Ill. — Selecting the “perfect” Christmas tree to brighten your holiday season is simply a matter of following a few steps, said University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator Ron Wolford.

Choose a spot in your home to place the tree before heading out to buy it,” Wolford said. “Ask yourself a few questions. Will the tree be seen from all sides, or will some of it be against a wall?”

Remember to choose a tree that fits where it is to be displayed. 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 will be,” Wolford said.

Before selecting a tree, use a tape measure to 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,” he said. “Take the tape measure with you to the farm or retail lot to measure your chosen tree and bring a cord to tie your tree to the car.”

Another consideration is to pick a spot away from heat sources, such as TVs, fireplaces, radiators, heaters, and air vents. “A dried-out tree is a safety hazard. Also, make sure the tree is clear of doors,” he said.

If buying from a retail lot, Wolford recommends going during the day. “Choosing a tree in daylight is a much easier experience than trying to pick out a tree in a dimly-lit lot,” he said.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, consumers should not worry about the quality of trees they can find this year, no matter what the weather was like in the summer. Summer weather patterns didn’t really impact trees harvested this year.

Do some research on different Christmas tree varieties. Some varieties hold needles longer or have a longer-lasting fragrance than others. Some tree varieties have stiff branches and a more open habit, making them more suitable for large ornaments.

Choose a fresh tree,” Wolford said. “A fresh tree will have a healthy green appearance with few browning 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. Very few green needles should drop off the tree. It is normal for a few inner brown needles to drop.”

Make sure the handle or base of the tree is straight and 6 to 9 inches long, so it will fit easily into your stand.

Remember that trees sold on retail lots in urban areas may have come from out of state and may have been exposed to drying winds in transit. They may have also been cut weeks earlier. Buy trees early before the best trees have been sold. Ask the retailer whether trees are delivered once at the beginning of the season or if they are delivered at different times during the selling season. Purchasing a tree from a Christmas tree farm ensures you will have a fresh tree.

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,” Wolford noted. “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 1 gallon of water. Another is 1 quart of water for every inch of diameter of the trunk.”

Be sure to keep the water level above the base of the tree. If the base dries out, resin will form over the cut end, and the tree will not be able to absorb water and will dry out quickly.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, drilling a hole in the base of the trunk does not improve water uptake.

Commercially prepared mixes, aspirin, sugar or other additives added to the water are not necessary. Research has shown that plain water will keep a tree fresh, Wolford said.

For more information, visit the University of Illinois Extension website “Christmas Trees and More” at

Posted Dec. 3, 2013

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