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Christmas Tree Selection and Care

By Joe Julian, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension agent, horticulture

Christmas is a joyous time and selecting the Christmas tree can be a holiday highlight. It's not quite as much fun, however, when needles drop prematurely all over the carpet or the tree comes with brown spots.

Here are some selection and care tips to help prolong your tree's beauty until after the new year.

Several evergreen varieties are grown and cut for Christmas trees. Most available to homeowners are Douglas Fir (plantation and forest grown), White Fir and Scotch Pine. Other less available varieties are Balsam Fir, White Pine, Lodgepole Pine and other native and introduced firs.

The difference between plantation and forest-grown Douglas Fir is dramatic and noticeable. The plantation-grown fir is a sheared, very full tree, usually grown in the Pacific Northwest. Its fullness is attractive, but also prevents decoration on the inside of the tree near the trunk.

In contrast, forest-grown Douglas Firs, usually shipped from the upper Midwest, are open and somewhat thin in appearance. Both types of Douglas Fir are fragrant and hold their needles well.

The freshest trees are the White Fir, cut in Colorado. As with forest-grown Douglas Fir, the White Fir features open areas for decorations. It also holds its needles well. The White Fir is one of the earliest trees available for purchase during the Christmas season.

Scotch Pine usually is imported from the upper Midwest. It is a full-needled tree, but does have a tendency to drop needles and is not as fragrant as Douglas Fir.

Prior to purchase, know where in the home you will put the tree. This helps in deciding size and width. Keep the tree away from any heat source, preferably in a cooler area of the house.

Freshness is the most important factor in tree selection. Use these tips to determine if a tree is fresh:

  • Does the tree appear green and moist? A dry appearance with browning or off colors indicates a tree that may have been cut too early.

  • Smell the tree for a fragrant aroma. With the exception of Scotch Pine, most freshly cut Christmas trees will have an identifiable scent.

  • Run a branch through your gloved hand. The needles should not come off unless force has been applied. You also can shake the tree and watch for excessive needle drop.

  • Lift the tree a few inches and let it drop to the ground while holding the trunk. Again, look for excessive needle drop. Some browning and needle drop on the inner portions of the tree are natural.

Christmas tree care

If you cannot put the tree in your home immediately after purchase, place it in a cool garage or on the north side of the house. When you are ready to bring it in, make a two-inch horizontal cut on the bottom of the trunk and immediately place the tree in water. Check moisture levels frequently, as the tree may absorb up to a gallon of moisture daily.

Finally, use decorations labeled non-combustible or flame retardant and avoid lights and cords that are old or in disrepair. These simple measures will keep your tree healthy and attractive throughout the holiday season.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010