Yard and Garden: Real Tree for Christmas

AMES, Iowa – Every year millions of families shop for and buy a real cut Christmas tree from tree farms and local lots. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, 56 million trees are planted each year for future Christmases and 30 to 35 million families will shop and buy a “real” tree this year. Horticulturists with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach tell what to look for when selecting a real tree for Christmas and how to care for it after purchasing. To have additional yard and garden questions answered, contact the ISU Hortline at 515-294-3108 or email hortline@iastate.edu.

What factors should be considered when purchasing a Christmas tree for the holidays?

A few decisions should be made before going out to buy a Christmas tree. Decide where you are going to place the tree in the home. Be sure to choose a location away from heat sources, such as a fireplace or radiator. Also, decide on the size (height and width) of the tree you want.  

Christmas trees may be purchased from cut-your-own tree farms or as cut trees in commercial lots. A list of tree farms in your area can be found at the Iowa Christmas Tree Growers Association website at http://www.iowachristmastrees.com/. Carefully check trees at commercial tree lots to ensure the freshness of previously cut trees.  

Tree species commonly available at tree farms and commercial lots in Iowa include Scotch pine, white pine, red pine, Fraser fir, balsam fir, Canaan fir, Douglas fir, white spruce and Colorado spruce.  

When looking for a tree, select one that has a straight trunk. A tree with a straight trunk will be much easier to set upright in the stand. Check the diameter of the trunk to make sure it will fit in your stand. A tree with a bare side may be fine if you intend to place it in a corner or against a wall.

How can I determine the freshness of a cut Christmas tree?

The freshness of cut Christmas trees can be determined with a few simple tests. Gently run your hand over a branch. The needles on a fresh tree will be pliable. Those on a dry tree will be brittle. Another test is to lift the tree by the trunk and lightly bounce the butt on the ground. Heavy needle drop indicates a dry tree. A fresh tree will drop only a few needles.

What is the best way to store a cut Christmas tree?

If you don’t intend to set up the Christmas tree immediately, place the tree in a cool, sheltered location. An unheated garage or shed is often a suitable storage site. (The sun and wind dries out trees stored outdoors.) Put the butt of the tree in a bucket of water. Remove an inch or more from the bottom of the trunk before bringing the tree in the house. A fresh cut facilitates water uptake.

Should I add any material to the water to prolong the freshness of my Christmas tree?

Do not add molasses, sugar, soft drinks, aspirin or commercial products to the water. Additives provide no real benefit. The keys to keeping a Christmas tree fresh are to place the tree away from any heat source (fireplace, heater, radiator, etc.) and keep the tree reservoir full of water. Check the tree reservoir at least once or twice a day. Fresh trees absorb large quantities of water (especially in the first few days). If the water level drops below the bottom of the trunk, water uptake will be drastically reduced or cease when the reservoir is refilled.

How long can a cut Christmas tree remain in the house?

The length of time a cut Christmas tree can remain in the home is determined by the tree species, the freshness of the tree at purchase, and its placement and care in the home. In general, a fresh, well-cared-for Christmas tree should be able to remain in the home for three to four weeks. Remove the tree from the house when its needles become dry and brittle. 

Holiday gift ideas for gardeners

Gardening publications from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach make wonderful gifts. Many publications are full color and filled with Iowa garden photos.

Browse the online store at https://store.extension.iastate.edu/ to find high quality publications such as Garden Bounty – 2013 Garden Calendar, Home Landscaping – Understanding the Basics of Landscape Design, Ornamental Water Features for the Midwest, Perennials for Sun, Annuals, Deciduous Shrubs, and Sustainable Home Landscapes. All publications may be ordered online.