When buying either a cut or live (balled) Christmas tree, a few extra minutes spent checking it over prior to purchase will make sure you bring home a healthy and attractive tree.
Before you bring a tree home, decide where you will display the tree to determine the size and shape you can handle. The most important consideration when selecting a tree is freshness. A fresh tree retains its needles longer and is more fire resistant. Freshness can be determined by doing the following checks. Bend the tree’s needles, which should be supple and springy. A strong evergreen fragrance and a good green color are also indicators of tree freshness.
For a cut tree, bounce the butt of the tree on the ground. Outside green needles should not fall off in large numbers. Some interior needles do turn brown and fall off naturally each year.
When selecting a balled tree, shake the tree to see if a lot of needles fall off. If they do, move on. Rock the tree back and forth to see if the root ball is firmly attached to the tree. The root ball should not feel broken or mushy. The diameter of the root ball should be at least 10 times the diameter of the tree’s lower trunk.
When you bring a cut tree home, make a fresh cut across the butt end and immediately place the tree in a tree stand that has a generous water reservoir. The number one mistake homeowners make with a cut Christmas trees is not keeping the tree watered. Do not let the water level drop so low that the cut end is exposed to the air and dries out. This will seal off the pores and not allow water to move up the tree.
Store a balled tree outside in the shade and keep the ball moist. Don’t bring it indoors until it’s time to decorate, and don’t keep the tree inside for more than 7-10 days. It’s best to acclimate a balled tree in and out of the house by going from outside to a garage or porch for a day or two, and then into the house.
When you set up your Christmas tree, keep it away from fireplaces, heaters, floor grates, or any other heat sources. Make sure the tree lights are in good working condition, and turn them off when away and during sleep.
Steve Roark is the area forester in Tazewell, Tennessee, for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Forestry Division.