How to Select and Care for Fresh Christmas Trees

December 2, 2019

Richard Jauron
Extension Horticulturist

The weekend after Thanksgiving is traditionally when most Christmas tree buying occurs. Whether you cut your own tree or buy a pre-cut tree there are several things to consider before buying and when selecting a fresh tree. Horticulture specialists with Iowa State University offer tips to make the most of your fresh tree. To have additional questions answered contact Hortline at or call 515-294-3108.

Man Buying Christmas Tree by pikselstock/ What factors should be considered when purchasing a Christmas tree for the holidays?  

A few decisions should be made before going out to buy a Christmas tree. Decide where you will be placing the tree in the home. Be sure to choose a location away from heat sources, such as a fireplace or furnace vents. Also, decide on the size (height and width) of the tree you want.  

Christmas trees may be purchased from cut-your-own tree farms or as cut trees in commercial lots. A list of tree farms in your area can be found at the Iowa Christmas Tree Growers Association website at Carefully check trees at commercial tree lots to ensure the freshness of previously cut trees.  

When looking for a tree, select one that has a straight trunk. A tree with a straight trunk will be easier to set upright in the stand. Check the diameter of the trunk to make sure it will fit in your stand. A tree with a bare side may be fine if you intend to place it in a corner or against a wall.  

What types of Christmas trees are available?  

Tree species commonly available at tree farms and commercial tree lots in Iowa include Scotch pine, white pine, Fraser fir, balsam fir, Canaan fir, Douglas fir, white spruce and Colorado spruce. 

How can I determine the freshness of a cut Christmas tree?  

The freshness of cut Christmas trees can be determined with simple tests. Gently run your hand over a branch. The needles on a fresh tree will be pliable. Those on a dry tree will be brittle. Another test is to lift the tree by the trunk and lightly bounce the butt on the ground. Heavy needle drop indicates a dry tree. A fresh tree will drop only a few needles.  

What is the best way to store a cut Christmas tree?  

If you don’t intend to set up the Christmas tree immediately, place the tree in a cool, sheltered location. An unheated garage or shed is usually a good storage site. (The sun and wind dry out trees stored outdoors.) Place the butt of the tree in a bucket of water to help it stay fresh.  

Should I make a fresh cut at the base of the Christmas tree before placing the tree in the stand?  

Make a fresh cut at the base of the trunk if more than 8 hours have passed since the tree was cut.  Remove the bottom .5 inch or more of the trunk just prior to placing the tree in the stand. After a tree is cut, resin begins to collect in the water-conducting tissue, impeding the absorption of water. Making a fresh cut removes the resin-blocked tissue at the base of the trunk, allowing for greater water uptake.  

Should I add any material to the water to prolong the freshness of my Christmas tree?  

Do not add molasses, sugar, soft drinks, aspirin or commercial products to the water. Additives provide no real benefit. The keys to keeping a Christmas tree fresh are to place the tree away from any heat source (fireplace, heater, radiator, etc.) and keep the tree reservoir full of water.  Check the tree reservoir at least once or twice a day. Fresh trees absorb large quantities of water, especially in the first 7 to 10 days. (In the first week, a fresh tree with a 4-inch-diameter trunk may absorb up to one gallon of water in 24 hours.) Do not allow the water level to drop below the bottom of the trunk as the tree will absorb little water thereafter.      

How long can a cut Christmas tree remain in the house?  

The length of time a cut Christmas tree can remain in the home is determined by the tree species, the freshness of the tree at purchase, and its placement and care in the home. In general, a fresh, well-cared-for Christmas tree should be able to remain in the home for three to four weeks. Remove the tree from the house when its needles become dry and brittle.  

Photo Credit: Man Buying Christmas Tree by pikselstock/

-Iowa State University Extension & Outreach