• A Glowing Christmas treeGavin Mills
    A Glowing Christmas treeGavin Mills

COLUMBIA, Mo. – The best part of the holidays for many families is choosing and decorating the Christmas tree.

While some people prefer a care-free artificial tree, for others the fragrance of a real tree is the hallmark of the season. If your choice is a live tree, it’s important to find one that’s fresh, says Hank Stelzer, associate professor of forestry for University of Missouri Extension.

“Gently grasp the branch between their thumb and forefinger and pull it towards them. Very few needles should come off in their hand if the tree is fresh,” Stelzer said.

Another test is to shake or bounce the tree on its stump. Stelzer says a fresh tree will drop very few green needles. He’s not referring to the brown needles that are typically found in the interior of an evergreen. He says those brown needles occur naturally over the lifetime of the tree.

Once you bring it home it needs to be readied for the tree stand.

“Within an hour of the tree being cut from the stump, it seals itself off. So you want to make a fresh cut, usually about a quarter to half inch right off the bottom of the stump, and immediately place it in water,” Stelzer says.

All too often, people will whittle away around the stump to make the tree fit into the stand. Stelzer says just don’t do it.

“Because the conductive tissue responsible for getting that water up the tree is in that outside ring,” Stelzer says. “When you go start whittling on the outside, you’re actually taking away the ability for water to get up into the tree.”

Once it’s securely in the tree stand, make sure it has plenty of water throughout the holidays.

“When you bring the tree in the house, within the first few days it’s really going to take up a lot of water,” Stelzer says. “So I suggest one check the water level twice a day, once in the morning and again before going to bed, and make sure it never falls below the cut surface of the trunk.”

Unfortunately, our homes aren’t the best environment for that cut tree. It’s best if you can keep it out of direct sunlight and away from heat.

“We don’t want to put it by the wood stove, the fireplace or on top of a heating vent because the tree will dry out, making it a fire hazard and cause the tree to die sooner,” Stelzer says. “You want to keep your home warm, but the tree likes it nice and cool, if possible.”

More Christmas tree tips can be found in “Celebrating with Christmas Trees,” available for download at

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