Choosing A Christmas Tree Is More Than An Ornamental Process

Finding the perfect Christmas tree can bring joy to your world, but check the tree thoroughly before buying.

"Most people have personal preferences for certain tree species," says Bob Hansen, a Penn State Cooperative Extension agent. "But even a sentimental choice can be a bad one if the tree isn't fresh or has other problems."

Hansen says buyers who purchase live trees or trees from "cut-your-own" tree farms know their tree is fresh. For Christmas shoppers who prefer cut trees, Hansen offers three simple freshness tests:

The needle. Bend several needles on the tree to see if they bend and spring back. "If the needle breaks or doesn't spring back into place, the tree is not fresh," Hansen says.

The bump. Lift the tree and then bump the bottom of the trunk onto the ground several times. If a large number of green needles fall out, the tree is deteriorating. "Shaking may dislodge old needles that fell off naturally and were caught in the foliage," Hansen explains. "Buyers shouldn't rely on this test alone."

Sappy stem. Hansen advises buyers to inspect the sawn stem of the tree. If the stem appears moist and full of sap, the tree is fresh. "If the stem is dry, it also may have been bumped on the ground numerous times," he adds.

Hansen says some tree species are shipped from other areas, and may be less likely to retain freshness. Some Norway pines are shipped from Minnesota and Michigan, and many Douglas-fir trees are grown in Western states.

Once you've purchased a tree, the challenge is maintaining its level of freshness. Hansen suggests these home tips:

Add water. Before setting up a tree, place it in a bucket of water outdoors or in a cool place indoors. "If the tree is stored outside, keep it out of cold, drying winds and the sun." Hansen says. "Snow or rain won't harm the tree, but heat and sun can dry out needles quickly."

Slice for life. When the tree is brought in for decoration, make a fresh cut across the stem butt at least an inch above the existing cut. "The cut should be smooth and clean for maximum water absorption," Hansen says.

Keep checking water. The reservoir of the tree stand should be filled above the base of the stem. "Trees use a tremendous amount of water, sometimes two quarts per day," Hansen says. "If the reservoir goes dry, it will inhibit the tree's ability to absorb more water, even if the stand is refilled," he warns.

Hansen also cites advice from Penn State and Cornell University to keep the home clean and safe during holidays.

  • Vacuum any needles falling on carpets. Green needles can cause stains.
  • Apply commercial spot remover to any pitch stains. Use small amounts and blot with a clean, white cloth. Do not use carbon tetrachloride, gasoline or lighter fluid.
  • Keep trees away from heat sources such as fireplaces, radiators, heater vents or television sets. Use fireproof decorations and light reflectors. Lights with brittle or cracked insulation should be replaced.
  • Before using them on the tree, plug in all light sets to detect burned-out bulbs or short circuits.
  • Don't overload electrical circuits. A typical tree strand with 36 bulbs adds 250 watts to the circuit. A 15 amp fuse is capable of handling 1,500 watts. If a fuse blows, it means the line is overloaded or it is attached to defective equipment.
  • Never leave home without turning the tree lights off.

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