Tips for enjoying a live Christmas tree

Some get a more “authentic” feeling with a live Christmas tree. (Stock image/Pixabay)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Cullman County Extension Office Coordinator Tony Glover often gets asked around the holidays, “What type tree has the least problem with needle shedding?”

“The quick answer is ‘The fresher the tree, the better it will hold its needles,’” Glover said. “The only way to know you have a freshly cut tree is to cut it yourself, or in my case (laughing), I just point to the tree and tell one of my kids to cut it for me. If you buy a tree from a local ‘choose and cut farm,’ it probably doesn’t matter what species you purchase, so just pick out the tree you like best. The key to keeping the needles attached is to get the fresh cut tree stump into water as quickly as possible.”

Glover shared more tips.

“Choosing a pre-cut tree from a sales lot can be a little riskier than cutting the tree yourself, but if you follow these tips your chance of getting a good tree will improve greatly,” he said. “Purchase a tree as soon as trees are available, even if you don’t plan to decorate it for several days. The sooner you can get the tree in water the longer it will last. Most of the trees on sales lots were cut at the same time, so the longer they stay on the lot without water, the less likely they will even take water up when they are placed in home tree stands with water reservoirs. Look at the tree trunk near the base, and if you see splitting, the tree most likely has dried so severely it will not absorb water.”

What should a consumer look for in a tree?

“Look for a tree with a healthy, green appearance and few dead or browning needles,” said Glover. “Run your hand along a branch to see if needles seem fresh and flexible. Needles should definitely not pull free easily. If possible, bump the base of the tree on the ground. You should expect some of the old dead needles to fall off, but if green needles also fall off, the tree is not very fresh.”

What about the types of trees for needle retention?

“Some trees are just naturally better at retaining their needles. Douglas fir, Eastern White Pine, Fraser fir, Leyland Cypress, Scotch pine and Virginia pine are considered to have excellent needle retention,” he said. “Freshness, however, is the most important factor involved with needle retention. The ultimate in freshness is to purchase a living tree in a container. I have used everything from hollies to Arizona cypress as a living tree to be moved into the yard after Christmas. Many nurseries will stock container plants suitable for Christmas tree usage. However, even though these trees have a root system, they still need regular watering. The environment inside your home is much hotter and drier than the conditions were at the nursery. The shorter their time indoors the greater success you will have with them once planted after Christmas. Don’t forget to keep them watered in the landscape as well.”

What do you do for upkeep when you find that perfect tree?

Glover answered, “You should make a fresh cut a couple inches above the original cut.  This removes any clogged wood that would prevent water uptake. If you are not ready to place the tree indoors you may store in a shady area outdoors or in an unheated room or basement. Regardless of where you locate the tree, make sure to check the water reservoir frequently and keep it filled a couple inches or more above the tree’s base. Your tree should be taking up a quart of water per inch of trunk diameter per day. I have not seen any research that proves any concoction added to the water works significantly better than plain tap water.”

Glover also shared some additional tips on placing a fresh tree in your home, “A tree disposal bag is a good idea and can help you with cleanup after Christmas. Another tip to consider involves tree location in the home. Keeping the tree away from heat sources such as air ducts, wood stoves and fireplaces will prolong the freshness and reduce the risk of fire. Make certain all lights and extension cords are in good working order, and turn lights off when the tree is not attended. Because our homes are much drier in the winter when the heating system is operating, a small room humidifier can be good for you, your house plants and Christmas tree.”

If interested in finding a local Christmas tree farm, visit this website:

Glover noted one of the farms closest to Cullman County is Beavers Christmas Tree Farm in Trafford (10093 Bradford Trafford Road, Trafford, AL 35172).

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