Tips for choosing a live Christmas tree

During the holiday season, Gwinnett County Extension receives numerous calls regarding the choosing and appropriate care of Christmas trees.

They are available from a variety of sources, and can be purchased as pre-cut or at cut-your-own tree farms. Choosing a Christmas tree is a matter of taste, but here are some guidelines to follow.

There are several species of trees used as Christmas trees, and your choice is a matter of taste. The most common sold here in Georgia are Virginia pine, red cedar, white pine, Leyland cypress, Scotch pine, Carolina sapphire, Fraser fir and several others. The spruces and firs will lose their needle more quickly than pines.

The obvious advantage to buying a pre-cut tree is convenience. The retailer will make a clean cut and wrap the tree in plastic mesh, making it easier to take home. The problem with pre-cut trees is they were cut weeks before at nurseries. Additionally, they lose needles and can dry out easily, presenting a fire hazard.

Cutting your own Christmas tree means you'll have a fresh tree that retains its needles longer than precut trees, and will probably add a better evergreen scent to your home. Most Christmas tree farms specialize in growing varieties that are adapted to local conditions, and can be sheared into the classical conical variety.

Keep in mind that you will have to cut your own tree, so you'll need a sharp saw. Sometimes Christmas tree farms can provide saws. Once removed, the larger the tree, the more difficult it is to bring back and to transport in your


In choosing a good tree, consider the following guidelines:

•Select a tree that is at least a foot shorter than the ceiling in the room it will be displayed. If the trunk is split in areas, it most likely has dried up to a point that it will not be able to absorb water.

•The base of the trunk should be straight and 6 to 8 inches wide to allow placement in the tree stand.

•The tree should have a green, healthy appearance with few dead needles on it. The needles should be fresh and flexible, and should not come off if you run your hand over a branch.

•For pre-cut trees, check the tag to see when the tree was cut. The fresher the tree, the better.

Keep the tree in an unheated, sheltered area, like a garage, until you are ready to set it up. If it sits for a long period of time, make a fresh cut on the base before placing it into a stand filled with at least a gallon of water.

Keep the water level adequate to prevent the needles from drying out and dropping. If the water drops below the base, a seal of dry sap will form within a few hours and another fresh cut will need to be made on the base.

The tree needs to be out of any drafts and heat sources like fireplaces and heater vents. Test the light cords and connections before placing them on the tree, and do not use any cords with cracked insulation or broken sockets. Unplug the lights before going to bed or leaving the house.

In disposing of the tree, check to see if the local trash service will pick it up. In Gwinnett, there are several locations to drop off tree to be chipped up into mulch.

Timothy Daly is an agricultural and natural resource agent with the Gwinnett County Extension Service. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.