Choosing and caring for your Christmas tree

December 3, 2015 – Kenosha News

Fir tree branchEarly December brings fond memories of family expeditions to pick out the perfect Christmas tree. My daughters are now adults with families of their own but they continue the tradition. You can select and cut down your own tree or choose from a variety of precut trees at local Christmas tree farms. Garden centers, discount stores, and corner Christmas tree lots are other sources of real trees.

If you decide on a precut tree, purchase the freshest tree you can find. Freshness is determined by a combination of tree color, aroma, needle flexibility, sap on the cut end, and needle retention.

Evergreen needles should be bright green. Yellowed needles may indicate that the tree was cut as early as October and stored in a cool place for holiday sales. Off colored needles also can be caused by an early frost or hot, dry summer. Colorants are sometimes used to mask less desirable color. Unless you want a purple Christmas tree, avoid strangely colored trees.

Another freshness indicator is aroma. Grab a few needles in your hand and squeeze lightly. Then smell your hand. It should smell like an evergreen forest. If not, the tree may not be fresh. Of course, there are exceptions. Some trees, like white pine, are not highly fragrant. Low temperatures inhibit any tree’s fragrance. If you’re tree shopping when the temperature is below 20 degrees, don’t expect much evergreen scent.

Needles should be flexible in air temperatures above 20 degrees. Carefully bend a handful of needles. If they snap and break, the tree is probably too dry. Tap the tree gently on the ground once or twice to see how many needles fall off. If the tree is fresh, only a few inner needles will drop.

Once you make your selection, it’s up to you to keep your tree fresh as long as possible. If it fits, transport the tree inside your vehicle. If you carry the tree on top of your car or hanging out of the trunk, it should be wrapped or covered with a tarp or old bed sheet to keep the needles from drying.

When you get home, make a fresh cut and immediately place the tree in warm water. Maintain the water level in the stand above the bottom of the trunk to keep the cut from sealing over. Plain water is best. Additives (e.g. aspirin, cola, copper penny) don’t extend tree life. Trees last longer in cool homes with humidified air.


Kenosha County UW-Extension LogoBarb Larson is horticulture educator for the Kenosha County University of Wisconsin Extension. She holds a master’s of science in horticulture from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. If you have a plant or gardening question, email her at or call 262-857-1942.