Tips for picking, preserving and even re-planting a Christmas tree

Published Dec 1, 2017 at 4:00pm

As the search for the perfect Christmas tree begins, three Cornell University experts who work closely with New York Christmas tree producers have some advice for picking, preserving and eventually re-planting that tree.

In addition, New York state Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball is encouraging families buy trees locally and support tree growers across the state this holiday season. Check the Christmas Tree Farmers Association of New York website for local tree farms at www.christmastreesny.org/SearchFarm.php.

Elizabeth Lamb has a doctorate in plant breeding and is a senior extension associate with the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s New York State Integrated Pest Management program. She says with the good growing season this year, buying local trees is the way to go. “The fresher the tree the better, which is a good reason to buy local. The branches should be springy and smell good. A few loose needles aren’t a problem but you shouldn’t get handfuls when you brush the branches.”

Brian Eshenaur, a plant pathologist specializing in plant diagnostics and is a senior extension associate with the New York State Integrated Pest Management program, provides tips for picking the perfect tree:

  • Solid green (or blue-green for some species) color. Needle yellowing or a slight brown speckled color could indicate there was a pest problem and could lead to early needle drop.
  • Choose a variety and shape that fits your needs. Growers are producing a wider variety of trees compared with past years. Each variety tree offers its own shape, color, fragrance, and even branch stiffness which is important to consider for holding ornaments.
  • Measure your space before you go shopping so you end up with a tree that fits.
  • Don’t be afraid to handle and bend the branches and shoots. Green needles should not come off in your hands. Also, the shoots should be flexible. Avoid a tree if the needles are shed or if the shoots crack or snap with handling.
  • Christmas trees should smell good. If there isn’t much fragrance when you flex the needles, it may mean that the tree was cut too long ago.
  • If possible, make a fresh cut on the bottom so the tree’s vascular tissue (pipe work) is not plugged and so the tree can easily take up water.

Lee Dean, lead arborist for Cornell Botanic Gardens, suggests purchasing a living tree and a species native to your area. “Purchase a living tree. Choose a species that grows naturally in your area. Here in the Northeast U.S., we favor blue spruce, and fir varieties, such as Frasier and Douglas.

Place it on top of waterproof material, wrap the root ball in decorative cloth, and water frequently. Indoor air is much drier and will increase transpiration rates. You will need to water often to keep the substrate moist.” Turn lights off at night to conserve electricity and reduce fire hazard.

Once the tree has served its decorative, indoor purpose, place it in a cold (approximately 40 degrees), non-temperature controlled space. Cover root ball with mulch, blankets or similar material to protect it from drastic temperature fluctuations.

“Schedule a late winter/early spring family planting day and plant your Christmas tree. Not only do will you add another tree to the earth, you’ll enjoy its benefits for generations. Plus, each tree planted represents that season’s holiday and all its memories, forever expressed in the majestic crown of the tree you planted.”