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Selecting a Christmas Tree

Christmas trees are available from a variety of sources, such as garden centers, nurseries, local retail lots and, choose-and-cut tree farms. Tips on how to select a fresh tree, as well as descriptions of the different Christmas tree species, will help make the holidays one to remember.

Field grown Christmas trees will be fresh, full of water, and typically last longer than pre-cut trees.

Field grown Christmas trees will be fresh, full of water, and typically last longer than pre-cut trees.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2015 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Needles should be fresh and flexible and should not come off.

Needles should be fresh and flexible and should not come off.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2015 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Choosing a Fresh Cut Tree

Pre-cut Trees: Follow these guidelines to select the freshest pre-cut tree.

  • Purchase the tree soon after it was cut, so that it can go in water as soon as possible.
  • Consider that locally grown trees are usually fresher than trees that have been shipped from futher away. They are also generally less expensive.
  • Select a tree that is at least one foot shorter than the ceiling height in the room where it will be displayed.
  • Look at the trunk, if there are visible splits in the trunk, the tree most likely has dried to a point where it will not take up water.
  • Make sure the base of the trunk is straight and 6 to 8 inches long to allow placement in the tree stand.
  • Look for a tree with a healthy, green appearance and few dead or browning needles. Avoid trees with a wilted look.
  • Run a hand along the branch. Needles on a fresh-cut tree should be flexible and should not come off with ease.
  • When shopping, test the tree by giving it a slight shake. A few falling brown needles are not uncommon, but falling green needles mean the tree is dry.
  • Feel the needles. The needles should be flexible but snap when bent sharply. Trees with stiff needles that are losing their color should be avoided. Also avoid a tree with needles that pull off very easily.
  • Once the tree is at home, cut a 1/2-inch-thick disk from the base by making the cut perpendicular to the trunk. This slice is critical; when trees are cut in the field, they produce a layer of sap that seals the cut. This sap layer prevents water from rising up the trunk. A new cut allows the tree to absorb water and maintain a fresh healthy appearance. After making the cut, place the tree in a bucket of water, and let it absorb water for several hours before placing it in the tree stand. Researchers have shown that fresh water is best, and there is no need to add preservatives.

Choose and cut Trees: Trees at choose-and-cut farms are usually more affordable than at retail lots. Trees that are growing in a field will be fresh and fully hydrated. Most farms have several different species to choose from. Many also provide hand saws and will help with loading the tree. Some farms will allow customers to pre-select a tree and tag it for later cutting.

Other Considerations:

  • Be certain a vehicle is available to safely transport the purchased tree. Rope or bungee cords will help secure the tree. Take care to protect the vehicle because tree branches and resin can mar the finish.
  • Fresh-cut trees need a constant supply of water (more than a quart a day for most species). Make sure the water level never goes below the base of the tree. A dry tree is unsightly and a fire hazard.
  • Once the holiday season has passed, dispose of the Christmas tree in a safe and appropriate manner. Certain areas near lakes are looking for tree donations in an effort to create fish and wildlife habitats. Local county or city government should have guidelines available regarding disposal.
  • Occasionally, insects may be found on the tree. The most common insects would be aphids, spider mites, or praying mantises. If any insects are present, they will most likely stay on the tree. Simply shake the tree when purchased and again at home to dislodge them.

The following pictured trees are the most commonly grown trees found at choose-and-cut farms in South Carolina.

Types of Cut Christmas Trees

Name Description Scent Needle Retention Availability
‘Blue Ice’ Arizona Cypress One of the newer cultivars on the market. Dense, soft, blue-green needles. Very fragrant with spicy, citrus fragrance Good needle retention; make sure that the tree has a constant water supply. Available precut and at many choose-and-cut tree farms.
‘Carolina Sapphire’ Arizona Cypress Dense, fine-textured steel blue foliage. Will not support heavy ornaments. Very fragrant with lemony mint aroma. Good needle retention; make sure that the tree has a constant water supply. Available precut and at many tree farms.
‘Clemson Greenspire’ Cypress Dense, fine-textured grass green foliage. Will not support heavy ornaments. Very fragrant with lemony mint aroma. Good needle retention; make sure that the tree has a constant water supply. Available precut and at many tree farms.
Deodar Cedar Short bluish-green needles on strong branches that are pendulous at tips. Distinctive and pleasant aroma. Needle retention excellent for only two weeks. Available in limited quantities at some choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms.
Eastern Red Cedar Dense, finely textured, dark green foliage. Foliage is sometimes prickly. Will not support heavy ornaments Very strongly aromatic. Dries quickly; make sure that the tree has a constant supply of water. Traditional cut tree in the South. Commonly available at tree farms; seldom found precut.
Eastern White Pine Usually very full and dense with long, soft blue-green needles. Branches will not support very heavy ornaments. Pine fragrance, but less intense than other pines. Excellent needle retention; however, trees will wilt visibly if not given adequate water Eastern white pine is readily available from retail lots and at tree farms.
Fraser Fir Short, firm dark green needles with white bands on the undersides. Sturdy limbs. Exceptional and long lasting aroma Excellent needle retention. Avoid trees with split trunks. Trees with splits will dry rapidly. Readily available as precut trees. Not grown in S.C. Require cool summers and high altitudes to grow well.
Leyland Cypress Dense, soft-textured dark green to grayish-blue foliage. Limbs will not support heavy ornaments unless heavily sheared. Little scent. Excellent needle retention. Uses large quantities of water. Must water several times per day to prevent drying. Available at choose-and-cut operations. Rarely available precut.
Murray Cypress A hybrid cypress. dense, soft foliage, does not produce pollen. Lemon mint

aroma.

Excellent needle retention. Avaliable at choose-and-cut operations.
Scotch Pine Dark to bluish-green, fairly sharp, short needles. Stiff branches will support heavy ornaments. Pleasant pine fragrance. Excellent needle retention. Available at choose-and cut farms and sold on retail lots.
Virginia Pine Dense, short-needled, artistically spiralled foliage. Strong limbs support heavy ornaments. Pleasant pine fragrance. Excellent needle retention. Commonly available at both retail lots and choose-and-cut farms.

Note: Be aware that there are several other trees available in the trade.

Pre-Cut Trees: The number one selling pre-cut tree is the Fraser Fir due to its strong branches, blue-green foliage, and wonderful aroma. Because they require cool summer weather and higher altitudes, they do not grow in South Carolina; however, they are a staple tree for all retailers.

Additional Resources: The local Clemson Extension offices and the SC Christmas Tree Association (www.scchristmastrees.org) are great resources for locating a tree.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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