Selection and Care

Selection and Care

To some, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without a real Christmas tree. The following are a few hints to help you select that perfect tree.

  • 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 TVs, fireplaces, radiators and air ducts. Place the tree clear of doors.
  • 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. Take a tape measure with you to measure your chosen tree and bring a cord to tie your tree to the car.
  • 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 been cut weeks earlier.
  • Choose a fresh tree. 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 off.
  • 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 okay. A tree with two good sides would work well in a corner. The more perfect a tree, the more expensive it is.
  • Make sure the handle or base of the tree is straight and 6-8 inches long so it will fit easily into the stand.
  • Do a little research on different Christmas tree types. Some Christmas tree varieties will hold needles longer than others.

Some tips for your family’s visit..

  • Most tree farms keep their fields very well groomed, but there are some things that are beyond the farmer’s control. Be careful of fire-ant mounds, tree stumps, an occasional blackberry vine, uneven ground and sharp saws.
  • Come to prepared for a day in the country. Wear comfortable shoes and old clothes. Bring rain gear if the weather is threatening. The “cutter downers” and the “loader uppers” should also have gloves. Don’t forget the camera. It’s best to leave “Rover” at home. But, if “Rover” must come along, keep him on a leash at all times. Please don’t let him “mark” other people’s trees.
  • Saws are provided.
  • Some farms measure and price their trees individually, others sell them by the foot. Ask about the pricing policy before heading out in the field.
  • Head into the field and select the tree that fits your predetermined needs. Check the trunk to be sure that it is sufficiently straight. Keep in mind that pines will usually have, at least, some crook in their trunks. Also check that the tree has a sufficiently long handle to accommodate your stand.
  • In the fall of the year all pines drop, or shed, a certain portion of their oldest needles. This is a normal part of the life cycle of the tree. This phenomena occurs because the tree is preparing itself for winter. Most farms provide shaking or blowing services so that you will depart with a perfectly clean pine.
  • Cutting the tree is easiest as a two person project. The “cutter downer” usually lies on the ground while the helper holds the bottom limbs up. While the cut is being made, the helper should tug on the tree lightly to ensure that the saw kerf remains open so that the saw does not bind. The tugging force should be applied to the side of the tree opposite the cut. A back cut should be made first with the final cut coming from the opposite side.
  • Bring the tree to the processing area where it will be cleaned and netted. Netting makes transporting and handling the tree substantially easier.
  • When you are checking out, remember to pick up a tree removal bag if available. It can be used as a tree skirt and then pulled up around the tree to help keep the floors clean when the tree is being taken down.
  • Now that you and your family have chosen that perfect tree it’s time to bring it home. Cover your tree with a tarp or plastic for the trip home to keep it from drying out.

The following are a few tips on how to keep your tree fresh throughout the holiday season.

  • 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 one 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 one inch cut and place the tree in a sturdy stand that holds at least one gallon of water, or a rule of thumb is one quart of water for every inch of diameter of the trunk.
  • Be sure to keep the water level about 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. Commercially prepared mixes; aspirin; sugar and other additives added to the water are not necessary. Research has shown that plain water will keep a tree fresh.
  • Check all Christmas tree lights for worn electrical cords. Use UL approved electrical decorations and cords. Unplug tree lights at night.
  • Miniature lights produce less heat and reduce the drying effect on the tree.
  • It’s a nuisance to water a Christmas tree once it’s decorated with a tree skirt and surrounded by presents. Here’s an easy solution. Buy a funnel and a 3 to 4 foot length of vinyl tubing to slip over the funnel outlet. Fasten the funnel/tube with a twist-tie or twine in an out-of-the-way but reachable part of the tree. Extend the tubing down the tree trunk and into the tree stand reservoir. Now you can water the tree through the funnel without bending over or disturbing the tree skirt or its ornaments.
  • Take down the tree before it dries out. Many fresh cut trees if properly cared for will last at least five weeks before drying out.
  • Recycle your tree after Christmas. Many communities will pick up trees and turn them into chips. You might put the tree in your back yard and place bread and suet among the branches for the birds.
  • To “uglify” live evergreens in your yard to protect from theft or vandalism, try the following: Mix 20 ounces of hydrated lime and 4 ounces of WiltPruf into a paste. Add 20 gallons of warm water and 2 bottles of food coloring to the paste. Apply to evergreens with a garden hand sprayer or with a broom and bucket. Treatment should last through the holiday season.
    Source: Mike Bolin, Extension Forester, UIUC