Selecting a Live Christmas Tree

‘Tis the season to deck the halls and trim the tree.

Tree sellers are popping up in local markets and parking lots, and many folks are picking out the perfect Christmas tree. Last year 26 million real Christmas trees found their way into American homes.

There are many benefits to using a real tree as opposed to artificial trees. First, real Christmas trees are a renewable resource that have use and life well beyond holiday celebration.

Artificial trees, on the other hand, are non-biodegradable and will end up in the landfill after they have outlived their usefulness (though they can be used for multiple years).

Gardeners can use the real tree in the garden a few ways. Branches of the tree can be added to compost. If you have access to a chipper, much of the tree can be added to compost. Needles can be used as mulch, or even whole branches can be put on beds as mulch.

If you have a larger property, you can leave the whole tree as a wildlife habitat for brush-nesting birds. If you don’t have a use for the tree in your own garden, see if a neighbor does. Otherwise, you can have the city collect it for composting or drop it off at a collection site for the Division of Natural Resources to use it as wildlife habitat or as an artificial reef in a lake or pond.

A second consideration is support of the local economy. There are several local farms that grow trees, and many of the tree sellers are either local farmers or organizations raising funds. By buying a tree locally, your dollars support the local economy right here at home. You can go to to find local tree farms that allow you to pick out and cut your own tree (start a family tradition). The site looks dated, but the info is kept updated by participating farms. Locally you’ll find Whipkey Tree Farm. There are listings for other nearby counties, as well.

Picking out your tree

You’ll want to do a little homework before you pick out a tree. You definitely want to make sure it will fit the space, so if you are not a good judge of size take some quick measurements of the space and then take a tape measure with you when you pick out a tree.

There are several different species of trees commonly available around the holidays, each with their own qualities. Here’s a quick rundown of the top Christmas tree species:

•  Balsam Fir — This is one of the most commonly purchased trees, mainly because it is one of the least expensive. It is an overall good tree with good needle retention that has a dark-green color and nice aroma.

•  Noble Fir — The Noble Fir is an attractive tree with good needle retention. It has stiff branches, which makes it great for larger ornaments (which are becoming common).

•  Frasier Fir — This is also a commonly found tree. The upright branches make it easy to decorate. It also has a pleasing aroma.

•  Colorado Blue Spruce — These trees have a nice symmetrical shape and light bluish green needles. Many people think the needles have a bad aroma when crushed or damaged.

•  Douglas Fir — The Douglas Fir is one of the top selling trees in the whole country, likely because of the needles that radiate symmetrically from the branches and a pleasant, sweet aroma.

•  Concolor Fir — The Concolor is one of the newer trees on the scene. It has attractive, narrow needles that hold on well. The most interesting thing about this tree is its citrus-like aroma. Many people say it smells like oranges. (I think it smells like a gin and tonic, but that could just be wishful thinking.)

There are several other trees available on the market, but tree like pines and cedars typically don’t hold up well to heavy decorations due to their long, flimsy needles and branches, though they do have their place. Look for the tree that blends the aesthetic you are looking for with the functionality you need.

Caring for your tree

Once you settle on a tree, be sure to give it a good inspection before you buy. You want to make sure your tree will be safe and last through the holiday. Check for lots of loose needles to see if the tree was allowed to dry out and look for discoloration. The healthier the tree, the longer it will last. You can expect a few good weeks from a tree you take good care of, so plan your purchase accordingly.

Once you get it home, cut off the bottom few inches of the trunk to create a fresh wound that will more easily take up water. Put it in your tree stand (make sure it holds plenty of water) and water with clean, fresh water. Experts agree that you should only use plain, fresh water (tap is fine) and not add anything like aspirin, bleach, sugar, etc. Adding stuff could reduce the life of the tree.

Around this time each year I have to put together an account of all of my work to send for review at the University. I count my work on the Garden Guru articles as some of the most important and impactful work that I do each year. To help me show the impact, please take a moment to fill out a quick five-question survey at You can also send notes to me at or 4700 MacCorkle Ave SE, Suite 101, Charleston, WV 25304. Many thanks!

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