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Chicago Urban Gardening

The day to day experiences of a University of Illinois Extension Urban Horticulture Educator in Chicago, Illinois

Choosing a Christmas Tree Variety

Posted by Ron Wolford -

In recent years, there seems to have been an increasing number of varieties to choose from when trying to select that perfect Christmas tree. Many families have a tradition of using the same kind every year. Traditional varieties include Scotch pine, white pine, balsam fir and others.

More recently, other varieties such as Fraser fir, Douglas fir, Norway spruce, and blue spruce have become common. Nationally, some of the best selling trees are Scotch pine, Douglas fir, Noble fir, Fraser fir, Virginia pine, balsam fir and white pine. "Depending on the variety, some may be more difficult to find locally, based on demand, size of tree needed and the number grown in northern Illinois," says John Church, University of Illinois Extension Educator, Natural Resources. Details on types of varieties and other Christmas tree information can be found on the U. of I. Extension website

An example of one variety that has increased in availability and popularity is the Fraser fir, but cut-your-own locations with an assortment of sizes in this variety may still be somewhat limited. The needles are flat, 1/2 to 1 inches, and have a dark green color with a silvery underside. It has excellent color and needle retention characteristics. They tend to be "naturally-shaped" Christmas trees

For a "full" appearing tree, white pines are often good. They are widely available in the Midwest. It has longer needles at 3 to 6 inches. It has generally good needle color and retention.

The spruces are gaining in popularity as Christmas trees, too. The needles tend to have good retention, and are shorter and stiffer than some of the other varieties. The spruce varieties are often popular when buying a live Christmas tree to plant in the yard after the holidays. Live trees need special care while inside for successful planting outdoors.

The traditional favorite Scotch pine has 1 1/2 to 3 inch blue-green needles, which have a delicate twisted appearance. The branches tend to be more open and stiffer than the white pine.

Many people prefer it since it often is easier to hang ornaments on its branches. It is also often one of the most reasonably priced varieties. "Certainly, there are other desirable varieties available too," says Church. Regardless of the variety of the tree, proper watering and keeping the home as moist and cool as possible will help lengthen the tree's enjoyment and safety.

Further information on buying trees, varieties, tree care, tree farms and related topics is available at U. of I. websites and

With all these choices, everyone should be able to find that "perfect tree". "Buyers may want to first take a holiday outing to discover the different types of trees available and to do some consumer comparisons before making a purchase. The earlier the better to start the search, especially if a special size or variety are needed," concludes Church.

Source: John Church:Extension Educator, Natural Resources Management

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