The Perfect Christmas Tree 2004

San Antonio Express News
December 12, 2004

White House tree 2002Selecting and decorating the Christmas tree often signals the start of the holiday season for most of us. This week Extension will share a few tips in the proper selection and care of a tree so that you and your family can enjoy its beauty throughout the entire Christmas season.

The history of the Christmas tree goes back some 350 years, but the roots lie in the fact that ancient cultures gathered evergreens to celebrate the winter solstice (in the Northern hemisphere, the shortest day and longest night of the year usually falls on December 21). Plants and trees that remained green all year had special meaning for people in colder climates, because evergreens signified hope of springtime, warmth, green landscapes, and fresh bounty (particularly for those poor souls who lived in ice and snow for most of the year!)

Healthy, fresh, fragrant, and affordable trees are abundant and available. The top selling Christmas trees are Balsam fir, Douglas fir, Fraser fir, Noble fir, Scotch pine and White pine. Size and girth is an important consideration when purchasing a Christmas tree, so try to determine placement before purchasing it. Choose a spot away from heat sources, such as television sets, fireplaces, radiators and air ducts, as well as cold drafts. Measure the height and width of the space you have designated for the tree. Is your chosen spot in close proximity to an electrical outlet? Remember to choose a tree that not only fits where it is to be displayed, but has a pleasing appearance within the room. For example, if a tree is going to sit in front of a large picture window, then you want the tree to be attractive from all views.

Today, we are able to purchase Christmas trees from grocery stores, hardware stores, seasonal retail lots, “cut your own” Christmas tree farms, as well as some nurseries. The seasonal retail lots sometimes offer hard-to-find varieties as some tree vendors travel to us from the northern part of the United States. Local civic clubs manage many of these lots–Boy Scouts, school groups, etc., and selling Christmas trees serves as a fundraiser for those organizations. Some nurseries in town carry another popular choice–the “living” Christmas trees that come planted in a pot. If you have room in your landscape, planting your Christmas tree after the holidays has many benefits including the start of a new family tradition.

If you choose a cut tree, your premium concern should be the freshness of the tree. A fresh tree will have a healthy green appearance with very few browning needles. The needles should be flexible and not fall off when you pull a branch through your fingers. Raise the tree a few inches off the ground and drop it on the trunk end. Again, green needles should not drop off the tree. Dead, brown needles falling from the inner part of the tree may have been shed years ago and are less of a problem. Break a few needles. They should feel moist or possibly sticky. They should also be fragrant when crushed. Limbs should be strong enough to support lights and ornaments.

“Choose and cut your own” Christmas tree farms provide consumers with an outdoor recreation experience in addition to purchasing a tree. Trees ready for harvest will be marked, and consumers are free to wander about, look at all the trees available, and select one for cutting. Many of the farms offer hayrides, sell fresh wreaths and swags, hold special events for children, and have gift shops. Trees purchased at these farms are usually less expensive than at retail lots, and obviously, they are fresh. An excellent web site for Christmas tree farms in our area is

Once “the perfect tree” arrives home, it is time to care for it. Saw a fresh cut across the bottom of the trunk, about one inch above the old base. This will enhance water absorption. If you are not putting the tree up immediately, place it in water and store it in a protected, shady, unheated area. Depending upon the size, species and location, the tree may absorb as much as a gallon of water the first day, so check the water level frequently. Use a sturdy stand with a large reservoir. It is very important that you check the water level daily. Do not allow it to dry out. Commercially prepared mixes, aspirin, sugar and other additives added to the water are not necessary. Keeping the tree well watered with tap water is sufficient. If you allow your tree to dry out, it may not be able to absorb moisture adequately once it is re-watered, and will shed its needles prematurely. A good rule of thumb is to care for a Christmas tree as you would a fresh bouquet of flowers.

As suggested before, keeping the tree away from heat sources such as hot air ducts, wood stoves, fireplaces, etc. will help to preserve its beauty and lessen the danger of fire. Use only electric lights on your tree, never candles. Lights and cord should have the Underwriters Laboratories “UL approved” safety seal. If insulation is cracked or sockets and plugs are loose or broken, throw the lights away and get a new set. New lights are relatively inexpensive, use less electricity, and stay cooler than the older lights. Always turn your tree lights off at bedtime and when leaving the house for an extended period.

After Christmas, the tree represents a source of organic material. Rather than throwing the tree out with the garbage, consider placing the tree in the backyard with suet and bread attached to the branches. The birds will love the treat and the extra shelter from the winter winds. In the spring the tree can be chipped for mulch. The Bitters Brush Site will offer a day in January when residents can bring their tree to the site for chipping, and return home with their own fragrant mulch. Your beloved holiday tree then serves you again, providing mulch for your spring beds. The date is not yet determined, but towards the end of December, you can call the City of San Antonio Environment office at 207-6420 or visit the Bitters Brush Site online:

With the proper selection and care, you can enjoy a fresh tree throughout the holiday season, and contribute toward a joyful, ageless Christmas tradition practiced all over the world.

This article was written by Extension staff with Texas Cooperative Extension-Bexar County.

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