DALY: How to find the perfect Christmas tree

Timothy Daly

Timothy Daly

The holiday season is upon us, and many homeowners will be purchasing Christmas trees for their homes. Although some people prefer artificial trees, live trees are still a favorite amongst many. They are available at a variety of sources and can be purchased either pre-cut or at cut-your-own tree farms.

Choosing the ideal Christmas tree is a matter of preference, but by following several guidelines will help you select one that will remain attractive throughout the holiday season.

Several species of trees are used as Christmas trees. Trees that are commonly sold in Georgia include Virginia pines, red cedar, white pines, Leyland cypress, Scotch pines, Fraser firs, spruces and several others.

The obvious advantage in buying a pre-cut tree is convenience. The drawback is they were cut weeks before at tree farms and are not fresh. Ask the retailer at the tree lot if the trees were delivered all at one time at the beginning of the season, or were there multiple shipments throughout the season? Additionally, cut trees lose needles, can dry out easily, and be a potential fire hazard. Lift the tree and bounce it on the ground. Very few needles should come off a fresh tree. When in doubt about the freshness of a tree, select another one.

A fresh cut Christmas tree retains its needles longer than the ones that are pre-cut. Most Christmas tree farms specialize in growing varieties that are adapted to local conditions and can be sheared into the classical conical shape. Keep in mind that, in most cases, you will have to cut your own tree at a tree farm. You will need a sharp saw. Sometimes Christmas tree farms will provide saws. Remember a larger the tree is more difficult it is to bring out of the field and to transport in your vehicle.

When choosing a good tree, there are several factors to consider. Make sure you select a tree that is at least a foot shorter than the ceiling in the room where it will be displayed. If the trunk is splitting, it most likely has dried to a point where it will not be able to absorb water. Look for a tree that is healthy, damage-free and well-trimmed. It should taper gently from a full bottom to a narrow top and have enough branches for hanging ornaments. The base of the trunk should be straight and cleared of limbs six to eight inches from the bottom to allow for placement in the tree stand. It should have a healthy green appearance. The needles should be fresh and flexible, and should not come off if you run your hand over a branch.

Sometimes insects and spiders can hitch a ride on the tree and come into your home. You should hose off the tree and let it dry before bringing it indoors. Keep the tree in an unheated, sheltered area, such as a garage, until you are ready to set it up. Make a fresh cut on the base before you place it in water and then place it into a stand that has at least a gallon of water in it. The stand needs to have an adequate amount of water to prevent the needles from drying out and falling off the tree. This also reduces the possibility of a fire. If the water drops below the base of the trunk, a seal of dry sap will form within a few hours, and another fresh cut will need to be made at the base. Place the tree in a location away from any drafts and heat sources such as 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.

Check with your sanitation provider to see if they will dispose of the Christmas tree after the holidays. There are several locations in Gwinnett County that will receive your tree for disposal.

Timothy Daly is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with Gwinnett County. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or tdaly@uga.edu.