University of Illinois Extension
Bruce Spangeberg

These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.

Stateline Yard & Garden

Christmas Tree Selection and Care

November 30, 2000

One of the highlights of the holiday season for many people is selecting and then decorating the perfect Christmas tree. Both area cut-your-own tree farms and retail lots offer a wide variety of trees. Selection features may differ, but care once indoors is the same.

Once the tree is home, keep it in a cool, sheltered area until you are ready to put it up indoors. Before placing the tree in the stand, make a fresh cut on the bottom of the trunk and then fill the stand with water ASAP. Do not let the water level drop and the stand dry out. The best thing to put into the stand is plain water.

With all the trees available which kind is best? There are certain features characteristic with a specific species, but the bottom line is personal or family preference decides! Tradition may call for the same kind of tree every year, while another scenario is to try something new.

For example, balsam fir is a traditional favorite, largely due to its fragrance and upright form. Firs have short, flat needles, and make up a popular group of Christmas trees. Excellent color and fragrance has made Fraser fir increasingly popular. Douglas fir, not actually a true fir, also has visual appeal and good needle retention.

Another very popular group is the pines. One major distinction is that pines have longer needles than the other species, and typically appear "full" because of the arrangement of needles and branches.

Scotch or Scots pine is popular and very common in tree lots and on cut-your-own farms. As with most trees, a number of cultivars are available, varying in color, needle length, and overall appearance. Other pines include white, red, and Austrian pine. White pine has good color and soft needles but branches are relatively weak and do not support heavy loads of ornaments. Red and Austrian pines have longer needles, with red usually being a more open tree and Austrian having very stiff needles.

Finally, spruces have short needles and branches that hold loads of decorations well. White spruce and Norway spruce have been traditional favorites, but needle retention is poor for both once the tree is cut and brought inside. Colorado blue spruce, a common landscape tree, has increased in popularity as a Christmas tree. This species has the best needle retention of the spruces, with the needles being rather stiff and branches rather rigid.

For more information on Christmas trees, please visit our Christmas Trees and More website.


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