Selecting your Christmas tree

To some, Christmas isn’t Christmas without a real tree. Learn how to select the “perfect” tree for your home.

Selecting the "perfect" Christmas tree can be an enjoyable family experience. Before setting out to choose your tree, determine where the tree will be located in your house. Select a spot away from heat sources, such as TVs, fireplaces, radiators and heat vents. Also, determine the appropriate tree size for the location and whether all sides will be displayed.

Often the next question is, "Which species of Christmas tree should I buy?" There is no right answer to this question, for the right tree is very much a matter of personal taste and family tradition. Michigan ranks third in the nation in Christmas tree production with over 1.5 million Christmas trees grown locally. Michiganders are lucky that with our climate, growers are able to provide over eight different tree species that can be purchased at local retail lots or Choose and Cut Farms. Regardless of where you look for your tree, most often you will find the following species: Scotch pine, eastern white pine, blue spruce, Douglas-fir, Fraser fir, balsam fir, Concolor fir and Canaan fir. These species will vary in overall appearance, needle and branch characteristics, keepability, availability and price.

Scotch pine is a traditional favorite known for its excellent needle retention and strong branch characteristics. Needles are medium length and have excellent color. Scotch pine is commonly sheared tightly to produce a tree with dense foliage, though trees with lighter shearing can be found. The needle retention of a cut Scotch pine is excellent.

Scotch pine
Scotch pine. Photo credit: Jill O’Donnell, MSUE.

Eastern white pine is renowned for its elegant, symmetrical shape and soft needles. However, the white pine’s slender, flexible branches will support fewer and smaller decorations. Needle retention of cut eastern white pine is very good to excellent.

Eastern white pine
Eastern white pine. Photo credit: Jill O’Donnell, MSUE.

Colorado blue spruce is known for its beautiful bluish foliage, attractive pyramidal shape and stiff branching that will support heavier ornaments. If blue spruce has a drawback, it is its sharp, stiff needles that make it difficult to handle and decorate. Needle retention is good, though blue spruce will not tolerate a situation that allows the tree stand to occasionally go dry.

Blue spruce
Colorado blue spruce. Photo credit: Bert Cregg, MSU.

Douglas-fir is an excellent species with relatively soft, attractive and fragrant needles. These trees have strong natural symmetry, moderately strong branches, and very good needle retention once cut.

Douglas fir
Douglas fir. Photo credit: Jill O’Donnell, MSUE.

Fraser fir is known for its dark green needles with silvery undersides. A pleasing fragrance combined with strong branches, straight stems and excellent needle retention make this tree one of the most popular Christmas trees.

Fraser fir
Fraser fir. Photo credit: Jill O’Donnell, MSUE.

Balsam fir has dark green, very fragrant foliage that is commonly associated with the Christmas holiday. This traditional favorite for many has form and strong branches that permit the use of heavier ornaments, and has good to very good needle retention.

Balsam fir
Balsam fir. Photo credit: Bert Cregg, MSU.

Concolor fir is an elegant tree with silver-green soft foliage. Medium length needles, excellent needle retention and a pleasing citrus aroma make this an attractive Christmas tree choice.

Concolor fir
Concolor fir. Photo credit: Jill O’Donnell, MSUE.

Canaan fir is a relatively new Christmas tree species rapidly gaining acceptance by both growers and consumers. Like Fraser fir, Canaan has attractive, relatively soft foliage and stiff branches that are good for hanging heavier ornaments. Needle retention is good to very good, and it, too, produces the balsam aroma commonly associated with the Christmas holiday.

Canaan fir
Canaan fir. Photo credit: Bert Cregg, MSU.

See and feel the freshness for yourself

When selecting a tree at a retail lot, examine the tree for freshness. The most effective way to evaluate the freshness of a cut Christmas tree is by how firmly the needles are attached to the branches. Lightly grasp the branch of the tree and gently pull the branch and needles through your hand. Only a few needles should come off in your hand if the tree is fresh. Be sure to avoid trees with stiff needles that are losing their color.

Keep it fresh

When you get your tree home, cut 0.25 to 0.5 inches off the end and immediately put the tree into water. If you are not ready to put up your tree right away, keep it in a cool, shaded area such as a garage or covered porch. Once the tree is inside your home, the single most important thing you can do to keep your tree fresh is to keep it watered. A fresh cut tree may take up as much as a gallon of water on the first day and a quart or more on the following days. Be sure to check the water level in your stand daily.

For more information on species grown for Christmas trees, visit the MSU Christmas Tree Team website.