Decorating Ideas

How to Select a Christmas Tree

I will always remember the year we had a fresh cut tree for Christmas when I was growing up. I was twelve that year. Dad took the whole family out a few days before Christmas, selected a tree, tied it to the roof of the car, and brought it home. I don’t remember the selection process, but I do remember the way it made the house smell. It’s amazing how much clearer memories are when smell is associated with them. I think this year I would like to get a fresh cut tree again.

Here is what I look for when I’m selecting a fresh cut Christmas tree.

•    Does the tree have a good green color to it? Trees that are well hydrated will have a pretty green color to them. If there is a grey cast to the tree, it’s starting to wilt.

•    Are the needles holding tight to the branch? Fresh trees will hold onto their needles for quite some time after being cut. There are a couple of ways to check to see if the tree will hold onto its needles. I like to feel the needles. I grab the branch about six to eight inches from the tip between my thumb and forefinger and pull toward the tip. If no needles come off, that is a good sign. Another way to check is to pick the entire tree up and thump it on the ground a couple of times. If brown needles fall off, that’s okay, but if green needles fall off, move on to another tree.

•    Are the needles still resilient? They should be flexible, not brittle. A resilient needle should be able to bend some without breaking. To check this, run a finger along the branch from the tip inward. The needles should spring back into place without breaking or falling off.

•    What does the tree smell like? The odor of the tree will depend on the species of tree, but it should have a light fragrance. If the tree has lost its fragrance altogether, it has most likely dried out too much. You should be able to tell if the tree has an odor as you are checking for freshness.

Once a tree has passed these freshness tests, I also look for stability. My wife decides how the tree will be decorated. Some years there are a lot of lightweight frilly ornaments, but some years there are heavy glass ornaments or even some stuffed animals. I always ask what the decorations will be before selecting a tree.

Frasier fir trees are great when the heavy ornaments are being hung, but the frilly ornaments get lost in the thick branches. White pines have delicate branches and are perfect for the years with the frilly ornaments, but won’t hold the heavy glass.

I also like to have a straight base, so I take a peek under the branches. A straight trunk for the bottom six to ten inches will help when putting the tree into the tree stand. It’s difficult, but not impossible, to get a tree with a crooked base to stand up straight. I like to make things easy.

One last, but important, thing to know when selecting a tree is the size of the space where the tree will be displayed. The tree you select should be at least one foot shorter than the ceiling in the room so the top ornament will have plenty of room to be displayed. There should also be enough room to walk around the tree once it is in place so decorations can be put all the way around the tree. Don’t forget to leave room for the presents and people to sit around the tree. Singing songs and telling stories aren’t the same when the tree is in another room.

Be sure to use a stand that will hold plenty of water. The tree will absorb a lot of water the first few days. After that, you should only need to water the tree every two to three days while it’s being displayed. Keeping the tree moist will reduce the risk of it catching fire. If you select a fresh cut tree this year, stay safe and keep the tree watered.

Shawn Banks is the Consumer Horticulture Agent with NC Cooperative Extension in Johnston County. You may reach him at

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