Selecting the perfect Christmas tree for your home

Posted 12/2/18

There are few things that symbolize the approaching Christmas season quite like the traditional Christmas tree.Some of my earliest memories of Christmas are of my father and I going to the woods and …

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Selecting the perfect Christmas tree for your home


There are few things that symbolize the approaching Christmas season quite like the traditional Christmas tree.

Some of my earliest memories of Christmas are of my father and I going to the woods and cutting our Christmas tree and bringing it home to decorate.

If a natural Christmas tree is what you have in mind, you don't have to search the woods to select your tree anymore. There will soon be plenty of selections from local outlets and garden centers. Many folks also choose to get their trees from Christmas tree farms.

The first decision that you have to make is what variety of tree you want. Leyland cypress has gained much popularity as a cut Christmas tree in the past few years.  Leyland's hold their needles very well and are fairly tolerant of indoor conditions, as long as you keep it watered. They also have a great dark evergreen color. The only drawback to Leyland cypress is that they tend to be weak branched if you have a lot of larger, heavier ornaments.

White pine is another great selection. White pine is more common in north Alabama; however, it will and does grow here. It has a great evergreen fragrance and a very appealing color that is a little lighter green than Leyland. Many folks still opt for the old traditional Eastern Red Cedar for its characteristic fragrance and appearance. Red cedar doesn't hold its needles as well as some of the other varieties, so it is very important to keep it watered.

Other selections in our area include Virginia pine or Arizona cypress. For most of us who purchase our cut Christmas trees from local outlets or "box stores", your choices will probably include Douglas fir or Frazier fir (considered by many to be the "Cadillac of Christmas trees"). These species are not grown in Alabama; rather, they are grown in the higher elevations of the Appalachians and are harvested and shipped around the country.

Keep in mind the size of your room when selecting your tree. Purchasing a tree too small for your room will detract from its appearance. Even though you can cut a bit off the bottom to make your tree shorter, removing too much of the tree will detract from its natural form. Also, keep in mind the location of the tree within your home. A tree that is going to be placed in a corner will require only two perfect sides; however, if the tree will be placed along the wall or in the open, it will require three or more "perfect" sides.

Test the freshness of your tree before you purchase it. Try rubbing a branch or two between your fingers. If too many needles drop off, the tree is probably not fresh. You can also gently bounce the stump end of the tree on the ground and watch for needle drop. A fresh tree will also have an evergreen fragrance and will probably have some sticky rosin or sap at the cut end. When you get your tree home, immediately place the stump in a bucket of water to prevent drying, and when you move the tree inside, cut half to 1 inch off the bottom end, since a fresh cut will take up water much better. Once the tree is located inside, make sure you check its water each and every day since dry trees can pose a fire hazard. You need not add any preservative or fertilizer to the water. Simple plain, distilled water will work fine.

Check all of your Christmas lights, electric ornaments and extension cords for damage, as these pose the greatest fire risk to your home. Also make sure each and every electric device is UL approved for use in your home. Discard any damaged light stringers or stringers that are not UL approved. Place your tree away from any heaters, wood stoves or open flames.  Also while you are at it, check all of your home smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they are in good working order and replace the batteries. With all the holiday festivities, shopping and other things going on, we tend to forget this very important home safety task.

Make sure to never to leave your lights plugged up whenever you leave the house, even for just a few minutes, and never go to sleep with your tree plugged in.  Remember to never allow metal ornaments or tinsel to contact any electrical device or cord, as sparks may result.

Artificial trees offer an option for some people or for commercial window decorations. Just remember that they are not necessarily an environmentally friendly option. As they age and become dingy and bent, their ultimate destination when we dispose of them is the landfill, where their plastic components will not break down.

Live or balled and burlapped (B&B) trees are gaining much popularity. These trees are placed for short periods of time inside and decorated live, with the root ball intact. If kept watered, these live Christmas trees can then be transplanted into the landscape and enjoyed for many years to come. Many people I know even redecorate their new "outside" tree year after year. Leyland cypress works extremely well as a live Christmas tree. It is extremely fast growing (up to three feet per year) and can work very well as a screen plant for your landscape. When planted alone, it can get quite large (up to 100 feet) at times. 

Any of several hollies also work extremely well as a live Christmas tree.  One of my personal favorites is Nellie R. Stevens holly.  It is a tough, yet very beautiful landscape tree that will make a nice 15 to 20 foot tall addition to any landscape.  It has bright glossy green leaves and brilliant red berries in large numbers that will not only add beauty to your landscape, but will be a favorite tree for many song birds over the winter period.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A & M University and Auburn University) is an equal opportunity educator and employer.  Everyone is welcome.