Selecting the "perfect" Christmas tree this holiday season is simply a matter of following a few steps, according to a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.
"Picking out the perfect tree can be a fun, memory-filled family tradition," said Ron Wolford.
Wolford offers the following tips to help select a fresh tree for the home and keep it looking its best.
Pick a spot in your home to place the tree before heading out to buy it. "Ask yourself whether the tree will be seen from all sides or whether some of it will be against a wall," Wolford said.
Choose a tree that fits where it is to be displayed. For example, if the tree is displayed in front of a large window, then all four sides should look as good as possible. If the tree is displayed against a wall, a tree with three good sides would be okay. A tree with two good sides would work well in a corner. "The more perfect a tree, the more expensive it will be," Wolford added.
Pick a spot away from heat sources, such as TVs, fireplaces, radiators, heaters, and air vents. "A dried-out tree is a safety hazard," he said.
Measure the height and width of the space you have available in the room where the tree will be placed.
"There is nothing worse than bringing a tree indoors only to find it's too tall," Wolford said. "Take a tape measure with you to the farm. Trees always look smaller outdoors so measure to be sure and don't forget to bring a cord to tie your tree to the car."
If buying from a retail lot, Wolford recommends going during the day. "Choosing a tree in daylight is a much easier experience then trying to pick out a tree in a dimly lit lot," he said.
"Choose a fresh tree from a Christmas tree farm. Purchasing a tree from a Christmas tree farm ensures that you will have a fresh tree. A fresh tree will have a healthy green appearance with few browning needles.
"Needles should be flexible and not fall off if you run a branch through your hand. Raise the tree a few inches off the ground and drop it on the butt end. Very few green needles should drop off the tree. It is normal for a few inner brown needles to drop," he added.
Make sure the handle or base of the tree is straight and long enough so it will fit easily into a tree stand after fresh cuts are made for water uptake.
Store the tree in an unheated garage or some other area out of the wind if you are not putting it up right away, Wolford noted. "Make a fresh 1-inch cut on the butt end and place the tree in a bucket of warm water. When you bring the tree indoors, make another fresh 1-inch cut and place the tree in a sturdy stand. The water reservoir of the stand should provide one quart of water for every inch of diameter of the trunk," he said.
Be sure to keep the water level above the base of the tree. If the base dries out, resin will form over the cut end and the tree will not be able to absorb water and will dry out quickly.
Commercially prepared mixes, sugar, aspirin, or other additives in the water are not necessary. "Research has shown that plain water will keep a tree fresh," Wolford said.
For more information, visit the University of Illinois Extension website Christmas Trees & More at www.urbanext.illinois.edu/trees.