NC State Extension Publications

Selecting the Right Tree

Selection of the "perfect" Christmas tree can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. By following a few simple procedures, buyers can select trees which will meet their needs throughout the holiday season.

Before setting out to purchase a tree, determine where in the home the tree will be located, the size required and whether all sides will be displayed. Other characteristics such as tree density, color and fragrance should also be considered. Next, determine whether a cut tree or one "balled and burlapped" is to be purchased, or if a visit to a "choose and cut" farm is preferred. A large number of growers, civic and charitable organizations and retail stores provide trees that only need to be purchased and taken home. "Ball and burlap" trees are sold with roots intact so that replanting is possible after the holiday season. At "choose and cut" farms, trees are chosen where they are growing in the field and then cut for use.

In North Carolina, there are a number of native-grown trees available for purchase, including Fraser fir, white pine, Virginia pine, redcedar, Leyland cypress and others.

Fraser fir has all the qualities of an excellent Christmas tree, such as fragrance, good needle retention and freshness. Its strong limbs will also hold ornaments well.

White pine is a softer-textured tree with more pliable limbs than those of Fraser fir. Its needles are somewhat longer than most other Christmas tree species, but retains its needles well.

Virginia pine is often sold from "choose and cut" farms and has the good qualities of the pines such as fragrance, needle retention and suitability for ornaments.

Many people prefer redcedar because it has been a traditional southern Christmas tree. Redcedar has a nice fragrance, but its flexible limbs will not support many or heavy ornaments. Redcedar may dry rapidly in a warm house if it is not well-watered.

Leyland cypress is a relative newcomer in the Christmas tree market. It has a lighter green color than redcedar and has soft flexible limbs. It also has a very attractive shape. Like redcedar, Leyland cypress dries rapidly in a warm house.

Freshness, which generally equates to the water content of a tree, is important when selecting a Christmas tree. For certain species, freshness can be determined by the condition of the needles. Fresh needles of firs and spruces will break when bent, in a manner similar to a carrot, but the needles are not brittle. Pine needles will break only if they are very dry. You can also bounce or shake a tree to see if needles are firmly attached. Older, dead needles should fall off, but not the younger, green needles.

Caring for a Tree after Purchase

Once a tree is purchased, keeping it fresh requires watering on a regular basis and avoiding high temperatures. If the tree is bought several days before it is to be decorated, it should be stored outside in a cool, shaded area. The base should be sawed on a diagonal about one inch above the original cut, and the base placed in a container of water. Sprinkling or misting the tree with water will also help retain freshness, but the tree should not be soaked.

Whether stored or not, before bringing the tree in the house, a square cut should be sawed on the base. The base of the tree should be kept in water throughout entire period that the tree is in use. The water level in the stand should be checked daily. Research has indicated that water additives are not needed and may even result in excessive drying.

The tree should be well supported and placed away from sources of heat. Tree lights should not be left on unless someone is at home, and should be turned off when the family goes to bed. Electrical cords should also be checked for any signs of damage or wear. Trees do not cause fires but will support combustion when dry. Dry trees should be removed before they create a fire hazard.


The selection and decoration of a Christmas tree is an important part of many families' traditional holiday activities. By following a few simple guidelines, trees can be chosen and cared for in a manner that enhances the enjoyment of a special season.



Publication date: April 23, 2014

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