URBANA, IL – Many people recall nostalgic memories of selecting a Christmas tree with their families. “When I was growing up in Peoria, Illinois,” says Ron Wolford, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator, “our family would cut down a Christmas tree growing on my grandparent’s farm.”
Today, you can purchase trees from garden centers, pop-up lots, big box stores, and Christmas tree farms. Wolford shares the following tips to help you select a fresh tree for your home and keep it looking its best throughout the holiday season.
Before you even head out to buy the tree, pick a spot in your home to place it. Ask yourself a couple of questions: Will the tree be seen from all sides or will some of it be against a wall?
Choose a tree that fits where it will be displayed. For example, if the tree is in front of a large window, then all four sides need to look as good as possible. If the tree is against a wall, a tree with three good sides should be fine. A tree with two good sides would work well in a corner.
“Purchasing a tree from a Christmas tree farm ensures that you will have a fresh tree and the more perfect a tree, the more expensive it will be,” Wolford says.
Pick a spot away from heat sources, such as heaters, fireplaces, TVs, radiators, and air vents. “A dried-out tree is a safety hazard,” he says.
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 the farm,” Wolford says.
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 says.
When looking for the freshest tree among the dozens lining the lot, Wolford recommends these telltale signs of a healthy tree:
• A recently cut 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 fall.
• Make sure the handle or base of the tree is straight and long enough so that it will fit easily into your stand.
“Store your tree in an unheated garage or some other area out of the wind, if you are not putting it up right away,” Wolford recommends. “Make a fresh, one-inch cut on the butt end and place the tree in a bucket of warm water. When you bring the tree indoors, make another fresh one-inch cut and place the tree in a sturdy stand. The water reservoir of the stand should contain one quart of water for every inch of diameter of the trunk.”
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.
Commercially prepared mixes, sugar, aspirin, or other additives to the water are not necessary. Research has shown that plain water will keep a tree fresh, Wolford says.