O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree

Expert Tips for Choosing the Perfect Tree

Here are some great tips from the Morton Arboretum—a plant and tree environmental education facility—to keep your Christmas tree bright this season.

A fresh tree is a long-lasting tree. Most trees should last up to three weeks in the home, according to Doris Taylor, who heads the Arboretum Plant Clinic. Before purchasing, find the best location in the home away from fireplaces, hot air vents, televisions, candles or other heat sources that can dry out the tree or cause needles to drop.

Also look at the tree name. This little gem of knowledge can give clues about the aroma, color and needle retention. Some names to be aware of are:

The Balsam Fir has a classic pyramid shape and a festive evergreen scent.
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"Scots pine trees are dark green with stiff branches and excellent needle retention.

"Eastern white pines have dense, medium-green coloring and seem to hold their long needles very well.

"Similarly, balsam firs have dense, dark-green foliage with good needle retention. They also have a classic pyramid shape, often with a spindly top and a festive evergreen scent.

"Douglas-firs have more soft, flat and short green needles with very good retention. Also note that when crushed they give a sweet camphor smell.

"For more of a blue-green color, look for a white fir with soft, two-inch-long needles that curve outward and upward on branches. They have very good needle retention and give off a strong lemon scent.

"Be cautious of the white spruce tree. While they do have pretty, grayish, blue-green needles that are short and blunt, forming a natural cone shape, some people may find their scent displeasing and their needle retention is very poor.

"The Colorado spruce tree has one- to three-inch needles that are gray-green to blue-green and are stiff and prickly. It has a resin-like scent and a great symmetrical form; however the needle retention is poor.

When selecting a tree, look for needles that are pliable, fragrant and attached, Taylor says, with full, bushy branches that are durable enough to support ornaments. Check the cut end of the tree to ensure it is sticky with sap. Pound it onto the ground and watch what happens. Only a few needles should fall off.

Finally, grab a branch with a bare hand, pull your hand toward you, away from the tree trunk, to see if any dye rubs off. "It's not uncommon to detect a blue-green dye that was applied to the leaves to mask the color of leaves drying out," says Taylor, adding there may also be an anti-desiccant on the leaves to keep them pliable.

Once you select your holiday tree, keep it flourishing through the season by making a fresh cut off the bottom of the trunk and putting it promptly in a bucket of water. Trees are thirsty — they can consume up to a gallon of water a day, so watch the water levels closely. Aspirin, soft drinks or flower fertilizer will not prolong freshness. Use plain water. If trimming is required, lay the trimmings on a perennial or bulb flower bed as mulch!

THE MORTON ARBORETUM in Illinois is a world-renowned leader in tree science and education, working to save and plant trees. The 1,700-acre outdoor museum features collections of 4,117 kinds of trees, shrubs, and other plants from around the world. Visit them at www.mortonarb.org.