The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Choosing a Live Cut Christmas Tree

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

The debate continues. Should it be a live cut or artificial tree for the holidays? Or maybe the choice is a living tree, roots and all for decorating indoors than planting in the landscape. For many people the holidays wouldn't be the same without a live tree.

If your choice is a live cut tree than here are few hints to insure success.

Fresh is best. Travel to one of the area tree farms to select that special tree. Enjoy a bit of the outdoors and make it a family tradition. Plus kids love watching the tree shaker.

An alternative to cutting your own tree from a farm is to purchase one from a reliable dealer. Even if you leave the tree in a bucket of water outside for a while, the sooner you get the tree home to a constant water supply the fresher the tree will stay.

Trees should always be recut once you get them home and then put into water. Tree stands should hold at least a gallon of water and should be kept full at all times. Use a funnel and plastic pipe attached to the tree trunk with twist ties to make watering easier.

Not all trees may fit your purposes. Here are characteristics of some of the more common trees.

Austrian pines have 4 to 6 inches long dark green needles. The needles are retained well and have some fragrance. I think the long needles make putting ornaments on a bit difficult.

If you have to hug a tree, white pines are best with their soft, blue green needles, 2 to 5 inches long. Needle retention is good and they generally have a nice full appearance. The branches are limber so may not hold a lot of really heavy ornaments. White pines retain their needles throughout the holiday season. If you want fragrance, you may have to use pine scented car fresheners as ornaments since white pines have little or no fragrance.

Black Hill Spruce and blue spruce have beautiful short green to blue green needles and tend to have nice symmetrical shape for good viewing from all sides. The branches are stiff and will hold many ornaments. The needles are prickly so may not be suitable around young children. If spruce dry out in a hot room every single needle will be on the floor.

Scotch pine is one of the most popular Christmas trees with its stiff branches and stiff, dark green 1 to 3 inches long needles. It holds its needles for four weeks and does not drop needles even when dry. It has an open habit to allow plenty of room for ornaments. It keeps aroma throughout the season. Since some Scotch pines naturally yellow in winter, they are sometimes sprayed with green colorant.

Balsam Fir is best known for its fragrance and 3/4 to 1-1/2 inch short, flat, long lasting dark green needles. Balsam firs hate our summers so are generally not grown here. Many local retailers will purchase them from northern farms but expect to pay more for this type. In my book if you have the money to spend, it's worth it.

White fir and Fraser fir are also good choices for fragrance.

Douglasfir holds its blue to dark green, 1 to 1-1/2 inch needles well in a nice conical habit. Needles when crushed have one of the best aromas among Christmas trees.

Norway spruce has a nice conical shape with fragrant needles 1/2 – 1 inch long and dark green. However, Norway spruce make better living trees for the landscape then cut trees since their needle retention is poor.

For more information on Christmas trees check out our website http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/trees/

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