At Home: Look at needles before purchasing Christmas tree

Once home, water and place away from heat sources

Thanksgiving is behind us, and thus the holiday season has officially begun.


For those celebrating Christmas, or those who just enjoy having an evergreen tree indoors for a month, selecting a tree and properly caring for it is an important process.

When purchasing a cut tree, there are important signs to look for to help determine whether the tree is suitable.

Dull needles that are more gray than bright green or needles that are stiff and brittle mean the tree is on the decline. When you remove needles from the tree, they should ooze when broken open.

This signifies moisture and life in the needles.

When you get the tree home if needles are rapidly shedding, recut the trunk about an inch above the original cut. This may open up clogged, water-conducting tissues.

Keep in mind that real trees are a messy affair and some needle drop will always occur.

Once your tree is home, immediately place it in warm water in a cool spot in the house.

Fireplaces, stoves, heat ducts and television sets are best avoided for the area around the tree. Regularly add water to the reservoir and recut the tree if the water dips below the bottom of the trunk.

If you’re attempted to add aspirin, pennies, baking soda, sugar or bleach to the water to extend the life of the tree, don’t.

None of these items have been shown to prolong the life of the tree.

For those who’d like to use a live tree and plant it after Christmas, it’s best to bring the tree inside only a few days before the holiday to avoid a loss in dormancy.

Some nurseries allow consumers to purchase a tree ahead of time and arrange for pick-up when you’re ready to bring the tree indoors and decorate.

Immediately after Christmas — the tree should be inside no more than three days — move the tree to the garage to acclimate it to the cold weather.

Digging the hole before the ground is frozen — sometimes well before Christmas — is always a good idea. If you dig ahead of time, backfill the hole with the soil and mulch to keep it from freezing.

Once you plant the tree, water it well and re-mulch to prevent the water from freezing before the tree can absorb it.

If fake trees are your interest, care is much easier. Don’t worry about watering or trimming, although needle drop will still occur.

Every year, the debate pops up about which type of tree — fake or real — is more environmentally friendly. The answer may surprise you.

Although cutting down a tree doesn’t sound like the green choice, it is.

Fake trees last an average of six years in your home — although I know many who’ve had them for decades — but they persist in landfills for centuries.

Real trees have an extremely positive impact on their environment prior to harvest.

These trees provide habitat for animals, remove dust and pollen from the air and provide oxygen.

Once Christmas has ended, real trees continue to be the green choice.

In the United States, 93 percent of real trees are recycled in some manner, according to the University of Illinois.

This recycling can provide fish habitats, prevent erosion and be used to rebuild housing structures for wildlife.

Each tree type has its own virtues and drawbacks, but the sentiment is the same for each.

Whether real, fake or balled and burlapped, the most important part of any tree is the people around it.

Ariel Whitely-Noll is the horticulture agent for Shawnee County Research and Extension.


For a few ideas on how to recycle your Christmas tree, read the horticulture page in December’s Extension News:

For more tree facts from the University of Illinois, visit