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How to choose and care for your Christmas tree

By Rick Thomason

University of Tennessee
Johnson County Extension Director

Selecting the perfect tree is essential when it comes to decorating for Christmas.  Get the best tree you can to ensure it lasts and looks great the entire holiday season.  There are a lot of Christmas tree options out there from which to choose.

If you are cutting your own Christmas tree, there are likely many tree farms in your area that will allow you to choose a tree and cut it down yourself.  If you’ll be cutting your own, be sure you leave the house with a hand saw, some twine, a blanket for when you strap the tree to your vehicle and some gloves to protect your hands.
If you will be buying a pre-cut tree, make sure it is freshly cut.  Touch the needles and branches to see if a significant amount comes off in your hand.  Lightly bang the base of the tree on the ground.  If an excessive amount of needles fall off, the tree is not fresh.  Test the limbs to see if they are sturdy enough to hold the weight of the ornaments.  Also, if the tree is fresh, you should be able to smell the tree’s fragrance easily.  The tree should be a dark green color all over with no areas of brown needles.  Check to be sure that the bottom of the tree trunk is sticky with resin.  Needles should not break when bent between the fingers.  As when cutting down a tree yourself, bring twine and a blanket for strapping the tree to the top of your car if you don’t have a truck or similar vehicle with room to haul the tree.
Find the right location for your tree.  A little forethought will help avoid any problems once you have your tree and start decorating for Christmas.

Take the time to measure the dimensions of your room.  Use a measuring tape to check the height, bearing in mind the dimensions of your tree stand.  It’s a good idea to leave at least 6 inches from the ceiling to the top of your tree.  Don’t forget to ensure that the room is wide enough for the size of the tree you want if you’re going to place the tree in a corner.  Write these measurements down and take your tape measure with you when you go to purchase your tree.
When you get your new tree home, be sure to put it into a bucket of water as you prepare to erect it.  Don’t place the tree in high-traffic areas where it could get knocked over by children or pets.  Trees are usually best placed in a corner or in front of a window for optimal effect.  Never place your tree near a heat source, such as a radiator or fireplace, as this can present a fire hazard.

Consider anchoring the tree to a wall with a thin rope or heavy-duty string as an added safety feature to help stabilize the tree.  You can use this safety feature and easily hide it so it doesn’t detract from your tree’s appearance.

Keep the tree stand filled with water at all times.  The average tree can soak up to a gallon of water a day.  A dry tree can be a fire hazard.  With good care, a Christmas tree can easily stay fresh for a month or even longer.
Before stringing lights on the tree, make sure the bulbs and the light string itself is in working order.  Use lights rated for indoor use only.  Consider using LED holiday lights.  They’re more efficient than regular light strings and don’t put off as much heat.  Decorate the tree the way you want.  This is the fun part!
Dispose of your tree properly after the holiday season.  Don’t just throw out your tree with the trash.  Recycle or mulch it yourself.  Many municipalities have recycling centers where you can take your tree or have it picked up for recycling.