Selecting the perfect holiday tree

Nothing represents the holidays more for me than the smell of fresh evergreens and the perfect tree. Many family’s holiday traditions revolve around heading out to select just the right tree from the tree lot. Today, you can purchase trees from garden centers, pop-up lots, big box stores and, of course, tree farms. Before you head out to select your perfect tree, check out these timely tips.

Before you go out to buy the tree, pick a spot to place it in your home. 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.

Pick a spot away from heat sources, such as heaters, fireplaces, radiators and air vents. A dried-out tree is most definitely a safety hazard.

Purchasing a tree from a tree farm ensures that you will have a fresh tree – the more perfect the tree, the more expensive it will be. If buying from a retail lot, try going during the day. Choosing a tree in daylight is a much easier experience than trying to pick one out in a dimly lit lot.

When looking for the freshest tree among the dozens lining the lot, here are a few 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 cut 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. 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.

For more information, visit the University of Illinois Extension website Christmas Trees & More at, or call your local Extension office to chat with the Master Gardener volunteers about all things evergreens.