By: Eddie Ayers, County Extension Agent
In my opinion, there is nothing like a fresh Christmas tree in the home. Artificial trees look more
natural now than when I was growing up, but they are not the same. Choosing a fresh tree
should be a fun family affair, but you also want to get the best value for your money.
So let’s start with how to select a fresh tree. First, determine where in your home you will
display your tree so that you will be able to tell what size and shape you need. Next, if possible,
cut the tree yourself. This will provide the best opportunity to have a fresh tree throughout the
Christmas season, but you still need to care for it like you would any other “live” tree. If you are
choosing a pre-cut tree, you need to do a freshness test on it before you bring it home so hold a
branch about 6 inches from the tip then pull your hand toward the tip, allowing the branch to slip
through your fingers. Very few green needles should come off in your hand if the tree is fresh.
Here’s another freshness test: lift the tree a couple of inches off the ground, then bring it down
abruptly on the stump end. If the tree is fresh, outside green needles should not fall off in
substantial numbers. Remember, inside needles do turn brown and shed naturally every year.
Now let’s look at how to care for a fresh tree. The most important thing to remember has to do
with water. These trees need water daily, just like a fresh bouquet of flowers. You’ll want to
remember to keep plenty of water in the stand at all times. If you are choosing a stand, be sure
and choose one that has a big water storage area. A Christmas tree may absorb a gallon of water
in the first 24 hours it’s up and between two pints to a gallon of water a day thereafter. Check
the stand daily and supply fresh water as needed. If the water supply runs out, a seal will form
on the cut surface of the tree trunk and the tree will not absorb water and dry out. If the water
runs out, a new cut should be made.
When a tree is first cut, a seal of sap occurs naturally over its stump which keeps moisture in the
tree. It’s important to break that seal to allow the tree to take up water needed to keep it fresh
throughout the holidays. Once you’ve selected your tree and you have it at home, make a fresh
cut across the base of the trunk, ¼ inch up from the original cut. Put it in a bucket of water and
protected from the sun and wind until you get ready to move it indoors. If you are selecting a
balled and burlap tree, first make sure that the tree will grow in our area and second do not let the
root ball dry out as the tree will not survive when planted outside.
When you do bring the tree indoors, position it away from heat sources such as fireplaces,
radiators, heat vents, and television sets. When it’s time to put the lights on and trim the tree,
first test your light cords and connections before hanging them on the tree to make sure they are
in good working condition, without cracked insulation or broken sockets, and make sure all the
sockets are filled. Once you get the lights on, then it’s time to finish trimming and enjoy, but
don’t forget to unplug the lights when you go to bed or leave home. Never leave a tree with the
lights on unattended!
For more information, contact me at the Gilmer County UGA Extension office.