The Friday after Thanksgiving, for me, always signals the beginning of the holiday shopping season, but not at the shopping mall. For many years, my parents had a cut your own Christmas tree farm, which officially opened for the season on the weekend following Thanksgiving. Their customers developed a tradition, which brought them back year after year, in search of the perfect tree.

Today, many people choose to use artificial trees, while others still prefer the real thing. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, there are close to 350 million Christmas trees currently growing on Christmas tree farms in the United States, and about 25 to 30 million real Christmas trees sold every year.

If you prefer a real tree, then you will want to start the season with one that is as fresh as possible. One source of fresh cut trees is a local “cut your own” tree farm. There are several Christmas tree farms in the counties that our Extension Unit serves. Not only is this the place to get the freshest cut tree, but you may also develop a family tradition and friendship with the farm owner.

The second source for your real tree is one of the numerous precut Christmas tree lots. If you purchase a precut tree, use these simple tests to determine if the tree has remained fresh.

First, look at the needles, they should be flexible and have a waxy, natural green or blue-green appearance. While it is normal for some needles to fall off the interior part of the branches, needles should remain intact at the branch tip when you run your hand across them. Also, gently bend the tips of the branches to make sure they have remained flexible.

There are two important steps to maintain a real tree’s freshness over the holiday season. First, when you are ready to put your tree into its stand, cut at least ½ inch off the base of the trunk. A straight cut across the stump is best. This will help the tree absorb water more effectively.

Secondly, it is critical that you maintain a constant supply of water to the tree, because if the water reservoir goes dry, the trunk will seal over and stop absorbing water. Monitor the water level closely, especially during the first 24 hours. A precut tree may use up to one gallon of water during this time as it rehydrates.

In addition to maintaining a constant water supply to your tree, consider where you place the tree in your home. Avoid placing your tree near a heat source such as a TV, heat duct, radiator or fireplace, because the tree may dry out faster. Even a well-cared for tree will not last forever indoors. Monitor the condition of your tree to determine how long to keep it indoors.

If you would like to learn more about Christmas trees, or need help locating a tree farm to “cut your own”, visit the University of Illinois Extension’s “Christmas Trees and More” website at http://urbanext.illinois.edu/trees/ .

If you have questions, feel free to contact Dave Shiley at the University of Illinois Extension office in Arthur at 217-543-3755. If you are looking for more information regarding local food systems or other agriculture production topics visit our University of Illinois Extension Unit 19 website at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/ccdms/ .

For more information on University of Illinois Extension programming in Coles, Cumberland, Douglas, Moultrie and Shelby counties, visit our website at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/ccdms/index.html or call us at 217-345-7034.

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