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Tips for Purchasing Your Christmas Tree

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
November 12, 2014        
Source:  Beth Berlin, Extension Educator-Horticulture
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns & Benton Counties

Tips for Purchasing Your Christmas Tree
By Beth Berlin, University of Minnesota Extension

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (11/10/14) — The holiday season is upon us, it soon will be time to put away the fall decorations and put up the winter decor, including the Christmas tree.  For many of us this includes the annual tradition of purchasing a fresh real tree.  Minnesota tree farmers typically produce over 500,000 trees per year. This year a very special Christmas tree was cut in Minnesota.

The 2014 United States Capitol Christmas Tree is from the Chippewa National Forest near Cass Lake, Minnesota.  The 88-foot tall white spruce was selected and cut on October 29th and began the long travel to Washington D.C. Once it arrives to the U.S. Capitol it will be decorated by thousands of ornaments that were handcrafted by Minnesota children as a gift from the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” The tree will be lit on December 2nd and continue to light up the Capitol’s nights until January 1, 2015.

On average a Christmas tree is 8 to 12 years old before it reaches marketable height.  In Minnesota, Christmas tree selection at a local farm or lot includes choosing from an array of evergreens that include Scotch (Scots) pine, red (Norway) pine, white pine, white spruce, Colorado spruce, balsam fir, Canaan fir, or Fraser fir. 

Here are some helpful tips the Christmas Tree Associations and University of Minnesota Extension Educator Kathy Zuzek recommend you keep in mind when selecting and maintaining a fresh real tree. 

Space is a factor that should not be overlooked when purchasing a tree.  Do your homework before even leaving home and measure the space available for a tree, both height and width.  Keeping in mind for the longevity of your tree it will do best in a space away from direct sunlight, heater vents and fireplaces. 

A second factor to consider is price.  Scotch pines are typically the most inexpensive tree species while Colorado spruce and Fraser fir are often the most expensive species.  Tree height also plays a critical role in the price of the tree, the taller the tree typically the more expensive the price.

Color and fragrance are often a key factor for many when selecting a tree. Balsam firs top the charts when it comes to fragrance in Christmas trees followed closely by other firs and pines.  Tree species will have their own natural color, but sometimes tree farmers choose to use a blue-green dye to assist those that lack a desirable appearance.  This is a harmless die, but be sure to investigate a little deeper to make sure the tree is still fresh and healthy and won’t have premature needle shedding.  Firs tend to have a silvery beauty to them because of the silver lines on the underside of the needle. 

The final factor is the branch stiffness, needle softness, length and longevity.  Pines tend to have the best needle retention followed by firs and then spruce.  Tree freshness is the key for needle retention.  Before purchasing a tree, either run a branch through your enclosed hand or shake the tree, few needles should drop from a fresh tree. Another test is to check the flexibility of branch ends and needles.  They should be flexible rather than dry and brittle.

Consider the weight of the decorations you intend on using.  Certain species of trees have more branch stiffness and can tolerate heavier ornaments.  Consider buying a Scotch pine or a Colorado spruce; their stiff branches will support such ornaments. Fraser fir has the sturdiest branches of the firs.  If you like the look and aroma of a white pine it is best to decorate with lightweight ornaments, bows, and ribbons because of its soft flexible branches.

Once you’ve selected your perfect tree it is important to start with the proper care before you even leave the lot.  If you will need to travel at highway speeds or it will be over 15 minutes, it is recommended to either transport your tree in an enclosed vehicle or wrap the tree with a tarp, and secure it safely in or on your vehicle.  The next step once at its final destination is to cut off a minimum of one inch from the base of the trunk before putting it into the stand.  Water the tree immediately and monitor the water level two to three times a day for the first few days and occasionally thereafter.  Fresh cut trees can use up to one quart of water per every one inch of trunk diameter each day.  If the tree stand goes dry, the tree will stop water uptake, and desiccation and needle drop will occur.
May you find the perfect tree to compliment your home this holiday season. Happy Holidays! To find a Minnesota Christmas Tree Association “Cut Your Own Tree Farm” visit  

Colorado Blue Spruce photo credit:


Beth Berlin
Extension Educator, Horticulture
(320) 255-6169
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