Having worked in a retail nursery’s tree lot for several years, I learned a few things about cut Christmas trees that might help you out:


  • Buying your tree later does not mean it’s fresher. Most trees are cut down before Thanksgiving, some weeks before (but thank goodness not where I worked).  So, in many cases the sooner you get it and put it in water, the longer it may actually last.  If you can’t trust the seller to tell you truthfully when it was cut or at least when they received it, then don’t purchase there if it matters to you.
  • Trees displayed or stored in shaded lots will dry out less than ones kept in the sun.
  • If brown needles fall on the ground under the tree when you shake or bounce it, as is often suggested, that doesn’t necessarily mean that much. Trees naturally shed older needles every year as they grow, and some get stuck in the tree.  Some, but not all, retailers will use “shaking machines” to get the old needles cleaned out.  Brown needles ON the tree, or green needles falling off are more troubling.
  • To test for freshness, grasp a stem between your fingers and run them toward you down the length. If the needles are pliable and nothing falls off, you’ve got a good one.


  • If you’re putting your tree in a corner, or against a wall, don’t pay for a perfect tree. Besides height, trees are graded by how many perfect sides they have—4, 3, or less.  The less perfect grades are usually cheaper.
  • A big empty spot is not necessarily a bad thing. If you have very large or long ornaments, they’ll be hard to show off on a tree that’s really fat and full all over.  This I learned when I bought a flocked artificial tree one year—it was SO fat and full that the ornaments literally hung flat against the outside of the tree.  Glad it was heavily discounted—live and learn!
  • If you have a lot of heavy ornaments, be sure to choose a variety that will be strong enough to support them—pines are probably not the best choice.
  • Fraser fir has been the most popular variety in recent years, and rightfully so—they’re sturdy, generally fairly full, have good needle retention, and smell like Christmas.
  • Colorado Blue Spruce are lovely, have great needle retention, are usually very fat & full, and often cheaper. Fair warning: they are painful—like a big Christmas porcupine. Wear gloves when transporting—and maybe while decorating!

Once you’ve made the big decision:

  • A fresh cut is not an option--your tree will not drink enough water without a fresh cut. You must get it into water, preferably within 2 hours, or the cut will seal up again.  The best plan is to have a bucket filled and waiting outside the house when you get home.  Otherwise, you’ll be getting out your saw.
  • A straight cut is what you want—no Vs, no angles, no bark removal. Those options actually make it harder to keep the tree watered properly, for various reasons.
  • If you’ve brought your tree stand with you (or at least measured the inside), you’ll know if a bottom trim more than the imperative ½ inch fresh cut is necessary, and if you’ll need any branches removed. You may as well let the folks who already have the tools out do that for you!
  • If you like to decorate with greens, ask if you can have the cut branches from the bottom of your tree. After all, you’ve paid for them. If they won’t give them to you, DON’T SHOP THERE!  A really friendly place will probably give you some of their extra boughs if you ask nicely, assuming you're making a purchase.
  • Some folks like to keep the bottom slice of the tree—they make an ornament out of it each year--it’s a nice memory, and a fun tradition for the kids.
  • Let the seller bale it for you (which should be free). It may seem like it would hurt the tree, but I've never seen that happen.  Trust me, you can do a lot more damage hauling around an unbaled tree.  It’s much easier to get a baled tree in the house and in the stand, and the netting will come right off once you cut it.

 Once you're home:

  • If you want the tree to last, don’t put it in a south-facing window, or near a heat register, fireplace, or other heat source. 
  • If the seller offers you one of those nice disposal bags, take it.  If they don't, buy one--biodegradable ones are available.  It's worth it.  Just put the trunk of the tree through a hole in the bottom of the bag before you put it in the stand.  You can cover it with your tree skirt, or use it as one. Once your tree is undecorated, just pull the bag up over the tree and take it out. 
  • The water capacity of your stand is important—it will need to hold 1 quart of water for each inch of trunk diameter. So, a 4 inch trunk will need a minimum of a one gallon reservoir.
  •  The tree will drink a lot more water the first few days, then will slow down—this is normal and does not mean the tree is no longer drinking. 
  • Check the water daily. If you let the water reservoir empty, the cut may seal up and the tree will stop drinking—this can take anywhere from 3 to 8 hours.  So don’t do that.  But if it should happen, adding hot water to the stand may help loosen the sap and encourage water uptake.
  • Led lights don’t give off the heat that traditional lights do. If for some strange reason you haven’t replaced your old energy-sucking strands with new LEDs, give your tree and your electric bill a break and join the new millennium. 

After the holiday:

  • Check with your local public works department--many counties and municipalities have a curbside tree collection or recycling program.  Others may recycle, but request dropoff.
  • You can cut the branches off and use to protect any tender perennials--but don't put down until after the ground is frozen to avoid frost heave.
  • Birds will appreciate the cover provided by your post-holiday tannenbaum.  If you've the inclination, decorate with popcorn, cranberries, and bird seed ornaments and let your feathered friends have their own celebration. 

For more information on real Christmas Trees, here’s a site from the pros—the National Christmas Tree Association.  History, varieties, care, and more: