Office of Research

Tips for selecting a live Christmas tree

Published November 29, 2011

Although artificial trees are popular and colored aluminum trees are making a comeback, for many people, Christmas just isn't Christmas without a live Christmas tree, said University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Ron Wolford.

Wolford provided tips to help select the perfect tree.

1. Decide where the tree will be placed. Will it be seen from all sides, or will some of it be up against a wall? Then choose a tree that fits that spot. If the tree is displayed in front of a large window, all four sides should look as good as possible. If the tree is displayed against a wall, a tree with three good sides would be okay. A tree with only two good sides would work well in a corner.

2. Choose a spot away from heat sources, such as TVs, fireplaces, radiators and air ducts. Place the tree clear of doors.

3. Measure the height and width of the space you have available in the room where the tree will be placed so you don't bring home a tree that won't fit. Take a tape measure with you to measure your chosen tree and bring a cord to tie your tree to the car.

4. Do a little research on different Christmas tree types. Some Christmas tree varieties will hold needles longer or have a longer-lasting fragrance than others.

5. Remember that trees sold on retail lots in urban areas may have come from out of state and may have been exposed to drying winds in transit. They may have been cut weeks earlier. Buy trees early before the best trees have been sold. Ask the retailer whether his trees are delivered once at the beginning of the season or if they are delivered at different times during the selling season.

6. Choose a fresh tree. A fresh 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 butt end. Very few green needles should drop off the tree. It is normal for a few inner brown needles to drop off.

7. Make sure the handle or base of the tree is straight and 6 to 8 inches long so it will fit easily into the stand.

8. If you are not putting the tree up right away, store it in an unheated garage or some other area out of the wind and cold (freezing) temperatures. Make a fresh 1-inch cut on the butt end and place the tree in a bucket of warm water."

9. When you decide to bring the tree indoors, make another fresh 1-inch cut and place the tree in a sturdy stand that holds at least 1 gallon of water. Be sure to keep the water level about 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.

For more information, visit the University of Illinois Extension web site at