The weekend after Thanksgiving is often the first weekend open for Christmas tree shopping, at least for real trees. While many people choose to use artificial trees, others prefer the real thing. In fact, 32.8 million farm-grown trees were sold in the United States in 2018.
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. Several in central Illinois can provide you with a source of fresh trees and perhaps a new family tradition.
The second source for your tree is one of the numerous precut Christmas tree lots. There are also many of these available in central Illinois. If you purchase a tree that is precut, there are a few tests to determine if the tree has remained fresh since cutting.
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. Next, gently bend the tips of the branches to make sure they have remained flexible.
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After you have cut your own tree or purchased a precut tree, there are two important steps to maintain its freshness. First, when you are ready to put your tree into the tree 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. If the water reservoir in your tree stand goes dry, the trunk will seal over and stop absorbing water. Therefore, monitor the water level in your stand closely, especially during the first 24 hours. A precut tree may use up to one gallon of water during this time as it rehydrates. No research has shown that additives in the tree’s water supply will lengthen the time your tree will maintain its freshness.
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.
It is important to monitor the condition of your tree's needles for dryness and brittleness during the holiday season. Some species will retain their needles longer than others. Spruce tend to be the worst at needle retention while pine are the best.
If you use a real tree this season, don’t forget to recycle it through your community landscape or public works recycling program. In addition, do not burn the branches or trunk of your tree in your fireplace as the resin in conifers can add creosote to the lining of your chimney, increasing the risk of a chimney fire.
If you need help locating a local Christmas tree grower to cut a fresh tree, visit the Illinois Christmas Tree Growers Association website at https://ilchristmastrees.com.
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. The University of Illinois Extension provides equal opportunities in programs and employment. If you need reasonable accommodation to participate in this program, please contact the extension office at 217-345-7034. Early requests are strongly encouraged to allow sufficient time for meeting your access needs.