By Sam Burbach, Education & Programming Coordinator – 12/02/2021

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas… trees!

December is here and many families who celebrate Christmas are getting into full Christmas decorating mode (if they’re not already done!). There are many plants that can be incorporated into Christmas decorating, from poinsettias and amaryllis to the star of the show – the Christmas tree! While some families prefer artificial trees, others go for fresh-cut Christmas trees. Christmas trees are often generically referred to as “pine trees,” with their evergreen needles and conical shape, but not all Christmas trees are truly pine trees! Let’s look at some of the different types of evergreen trees that are often used as Christmas trees and some tips to pick out a tree and keep it fresh all through the season.


Types of Christmas trees


1. Firs (Abies spp.)

Fir trees have excellent qualities for a Christmas tree and are some of the most popular species used for that purpose in the U.S. Fir trees have great fragrance, short needles that have a dull tip, moderate to sturdy branches, and good needle retention. These trees hold up well indoors and do not dry out too quickly if they’re well-watered and not in a hot room/near a heat vent.

Most popular Fir species:

  • Fraser Fir
  • Canaan Fir
  • Balsam Fir
  • Concolor Fir

2. Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)

The Douglas-fir is not truly a “fir” tree but very similar in appearance. These trees have wonderful fragrance, short, soft needles, good needle retention, and great shape. It is one of the most popular Christmas tree species in the U.S.

3. Pines (Pinus )

Pine trees are another good choice for cut Christmas trees. They can have a nice fragrance and have good needle retention. The needles on pines are grouped together in little bundles, called fascicles, attached to the stem. Pines can produce a lot of sticky sap that can be frustrating when handling and could even lead to skin irritation for some.

Most popular Pine species:

  • Scotch Pine
  • White Pine

4. Spruce (Picea )

Spruce trees look like fir trees with short singular needles. They have strong sturdy stems to hold ornaments and offer some nice color variation, including blue-gray or blue-green. Unfortunately, spruces tend to have poor needle retention, especially in warm environments like our home during winter, and can make quite a mess. They also have stiff, sharp needles that can hurt when putting decorations on and off the tree or if you brush up against it when walking past.

Most popular Spruce species:

  • Blue Spruce
  • Norway Spruce

Tips for selecting a tree


Cut-your-own trees are going to be the freshest, as pre-cut trees were potentially harvested up to two months prior to you picking it out, depending on where you’re shopping.

If you’re picking out a pre-cut tree, check the needles – they should be flexible and remain firmly attached to the stem when you pull on them. The oldest needles towards the interior of the tree naturally shed off so don’t be alarmed if the innermost brown needles are dropping. If many needles are dull, stiff, dried out, and/or come off easily, then keep looking for a different tree.

If you’re cutting your own tree, check the needles as well to make sure the tree is growing healthily. If the tree is dry and not taking up water in the field, then it won’t take up water at home. Again, if there are some brown needles towards the interior of the tree that are falling off, that is a natural occurrence and okay.


Tips for keeping your tree fresh throughout the Christmas season


  • Shake out as many dead needles as possible before bringing it in the house (most places will shake the tree before you bring it home!) and cut off any dead, dry limbs near the interior of the tree.
  • If you are not bringing the tree in your home the same day that you get it, keep it in a bucket of water in a cool location until you are ready to bring it in.
  • Give the trunk a fresh cut about ½-1 inch from the end before bringing it in the house to place in the tree stand. This will help with the uptake of water.
  • Make sure your tree stand holds enough water, generally at least 1 gallon of water, and is large enough to support the size of your tree.
  • Closely monitor the water level in the tree stand. The tree will take up a lot of water in the first few days, sometimes needing to have water added multiple times a day.
  • Do not let the tree stand dry out. If the base of the trunk is not in water, the cut end can form a layer of resin that prevents the tree from taking up water.
  • Do not display your tree near any sources of heat, including fireplaces, heaters, heat vents, and direct sunlight.
Make sure to keep checking your tree for dryness by checking the needles like when you picked it out. If the needles are dry or a lot fall off when you run your finger along them (this often happens with spruces) then the tree is drying out and becomes more of a fire hazard. You should remove the tree from the home if it is dry.

Also, if you put lights on your Christmas tree make sure to turn them off when the tree is unattended. LED lights put off less heat than older types of lights, but it is still safest to only have the lights on when you are home and able to enjoy them (meaning awake)!


If you’re looking for some ideas of how to recycle your Christmas tree after the holiday, check out this article with some different ideas and resources. https://klehm.org/oh-christmas-tree/

Additional Resources:

Sources and additional information:

National Christmas Tree Association: https://realchristmastrees.org/

University of Illinois Extension: https://web.extension.illinois.edu/trees/index.cfm

PennState Extension: https://extension.psu.edu/tips-for-selection-and-care-of-cut-christmas-trees