Sustainable and Safe Christmas Trees - December 1, 2010
Jeff Schalau, Associate Agent, Agriculture & Natural Resources
University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County

Each year, more than 25-30 million live Christmas trees are sold in the United States. Real Christmas trees have an attractiveness, fragrance, and tradition that cannot be matched with artificial substitutes. It takes five to 12 years to grow a Christmas tree and they are farmed as a crop and replanted after harvest making them both renewable and recyclable. Some southwesterners decorate dried agave flower stalks and saguaro skeletons. However, it is illegal to harvest these materials from the wild without contacting the Arizona Department of Agriculture and obtaining the proper permits. Live Christmas tree cutting permits can also be obtained from the US Forest Service – check your local district office for availability.

Here are some tips for selecting and caring for a real tree and keeping it safely inside your home:

  1. When purchasing a farm-raised tree, do a freshness test. Gently grasp a branch between your thumb and forefinger and pull it toward you. Very few needles should come off in your hand if the tree is fresh. Shake or bounce the tree on its stump. You should not see an excessive amount of green needles fall to the ground. Some loss of interior brown needles is normal and will occur over the lifetime of the tree.

  2. Once you've chosen your tree, keep it in a sheltered, unheated area such as a porch or garage to protect it from the wind and sun until you are ready to bring it indoors and decorate it.

  3. Before you set up your tree, make a fresh, straight cut across the base of the trunk (about a quarter inch up from the original cut) and place the tree in a tree stand that holds an adequate water supply.

  4. Keep the tree stand filled with water. A seal of dried sap will form over the cut stump in four to six hours if the water drops below the base of the tree, preventing the tree from absorbing water later when the tree stand is refilled. If a seal does form, another fresh cut will need to be made.

  5. A tree will absorb as much as a gallon of water or more in the first 24 hours and one or more quarts a day thereafter. Water is important because it prevents the needles from drying and dropping off and the boughs from drooping. Water also keeps the tree fragrant.

  6. In addition, keep your tree away from heat and draft sources like fireplaces, radiators and television sets. Test your light cords and connections before hanging them on the tree to make sure they're in good working order. You don't want to use cords with cracked insulation or broken or empty sockets. Also be sure to unplug the lights before you go to bed or leave the house. Never overload electrical circuits and use only UL approved lighting accessories.

  7. Avoid combustible decorations such as paper, wood, or plastic.

  8. Always unplug your lights/decorations before going to bed or leaving home.

  9. Make sure your smoke detector is in good working order and a fire extinguisher is nearby and in good working order.

  10. Never place candles or other open flame sources on or near your tree.

  11. Some people choose to have a living Christmas tree (one with roots intact that can be planted after the holidays). This is a good choice only if you have a place that it can be planted and cared for. It is critical to know its water requirements, suitability for your location, and mature size before planting. Another consideration is how it will do after being indoors for an extended period. They need proper care and time indoors should be minimized. You may be better off choosing a cut tree.

    Regardless of your holiday traditions or religious affiliation, it can be fun to bring an evergreen tree into your home. Don’t feel guilty. You will be supporting an agricultural producer and utilizing a renewable resource.

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Arizona Cooperative Extension
Yavapai County
840 Rodeo Dr. #C
Prescott, AZ 86305
(928) 445-6590
Last Updated: December 1, 2015
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