Greg Bowman

The activity of selecting and decorating a tree for the home has been around for more than 500 years. Some of the joy of having a real Christmas tree is the fun in selecting just the right tree. In our household, the Bowman family lives in the basketball gym for winter months and finding the time to select the tree can be tough. When we do go out as a family and select the Christmas tree, it is a fun activity and gets us in the holiday spirit. In the selection process, you normally have many varieties to choose from, plus you can find many sources of trees. Many of the stores will have trees for sale and you can also find Christmas tree farms where you can select and cut your own farm fresh tree. Today, I will be sharing Christmas tree tips from a UGA leaflet by Dr. David Moorhead, UGA Professor of Forestry.

The first step in tree selection is to find the right tree for you. Some folks may prefer a pine variety while others like one of the fir trees. As a child, I would remember simply cutting a tree on the family farm and having that tree for the holiday season. Today, we have more options in selection. For example, if you wish to have a pine, you can normally choose from Virginia pine, scotch pine, white pine or even sand pine. The fir trees are very popular too and you can choose from Fraser, Douglas and Balsam fir trees. The key is to note the tree shape, height and foliage characteristics in tree selection preference and match to your available space in the home.

There are other tips to keep in mind in tree selection. You need to know your ceiling height in your home and make sure the tree selected is at least one foot shorter than that height. If you remember from the movie “Christmas Vacation,” Clark Griswold selected a tree that was too tall for the spot. You also need to run your fingers over the branch along the needles. The tree needles should be pliable and not break or fall off. You need to try to shake or bounce the tree to make sure the needles are firmly attached. Few needles should fall off of a fresh tree. “A Christmas Story” is one of my favorite holiday movies to watch. Since you can watch the movie as an all-day marathon, it is easy to memorize the script line by line. When the Parker family was selecting their Christmas tree, the first tree when bounced had a pile of needles fall to the ground. You want to stay away from those trees. Also, stay away from trees that have a wilted appearance. It is also important to make sure the handle of the tree is straight. The handle needs to be six to eight inches long to allow for placement in the tree stand. Also, inspect the tree for insects and remove any dead needles prior to bringing into the house. You can either shake or blow out dead needles prior to bringing indoors.

Now that you have selected the tree, I would like to share tips on how to care for the tree in the home. If you go to a tree farm, you may not have time to bring the tree indoors immediately. If you do not plan on bringing the tree inside right away, according to Moorhead, cut one inch off the tree base and put the tree in a bucket of water and stand in a shady spot. When you bring indoors, cut ½ to 1 inch off the base of the tree trunk and put in a tree stand that will hold at least one gallon of water. It is important to not put the tree near a fireplace, heater vents or other heating sources. Check the water levels in the tree stand multiple times per day is very important. Never let the water level in the stand go below the base of the tree. If you let the water level get below the base, the cut end can seal up and stop water up-take. If water up-take stops, your only option is to take the tree down and make another fresh cut on the trunk base. This can really hamper the holiday spirit if you have to do this so monitor the water levels in the tree stand several times per day and add water if needed. In the stand, simply add fresh water. Many folks think that adding aspirin, soda water, bleach or sugar to the tree stand water is helpful, but it is not. Just use water.

A real tree can be a fire hazard if not maintained properly. The best way to keep the tree fresh is making sure the water supply is managed. Use only UL-approved lights and non-flammable decorations.

It is also a good idea to never leave home or go to bed with the Christmas tree lights on in regards to fire safety. Some trees may come sprayed with treatments that may reduce flammability.

For more information, contact UGA Extension- Gordon County at 706-629-8685 or email