November 22, 2014

1 - The choice of artificial or cut Christmas tree is a personal choice, but it is true that the cut tree requires more care.

Yard and Garden November 22, 2014


What is the best Christmas tree? Is it better to have a cut tree, or is an artificial tree better? It seems to me that real trees are more difficult to maintain and more likely to cause fires.


I am very glad you did not ask which type of cut tree is best. That is a matter of personal taste and depends on what type of conifer fragrance you prefer, what density you prefer, how you will decorate the tree, and how much you wish to pay. The choice between a cut tree and an artificial tree is also a matter of taste. Even with artificial trees you may need to choose what type of real tree the artificial tree is made to resemble, so the same personal choices will apply there. With artificial trees the cost of the tree can be spread over several years since the same tree can be reused. However, an artificial tree does not have the fragrance of a cut tree. Then again, you can purchase aerosol sprays, essential oils, and even air freshener devices to provide the fragrance.

Living trees can be a greater fire hazard if you are not careful, but many artificial trees have metal parts and in combination with electrical components even artificial trees can become electrical shock or fire hazards. They are just less likely to do so. Cut trees if carefully selected to be fresh so that needles are not falling off, if they are not kept indoors in the dry, heated air of a home, and if they are properly decorated (no open flames near the trees, no lit candles on the trees, etc.) fire danger is minimized.

Freshness of the tree you select is extremely important. Make certain that the needles are not excessively dry and falling from the tree. Some will fall but by bouncing the tree or rubbing the branches should not result in the loss of an extreme number of needles. If get your tree several weeks before Christmas, consider storing it with its base in a bucket of water in a cool environment (garage or cool, shady area that does not freeze). Bring it indoors to decorate only a few days before Christmas Day. When you first obtain your tree cut several inches from the base of the tree to increase water uptake, and immediately after cutting put the base of the tree in water several inches deep. Do not let the base of the tree dry out.

If you choose to cut your own tree, be sure to do that properly and safely. Doing it properly includes having proper permits or permission to cut and transport the tree. You can obtain permits to cut from National Forest offices or some Bureau of Land Management offices. You may also cut from your own private land or from private land IF YOU HAVE PERMISSION FROM THE OWNER. If you do cut from private land, be sure you have proper documentation and permits showing you have legally obtained the tree when you are transporting the tree.

Your comment about cut trees being more difficult to maintain is correct, I spent more time writing about how to properly obtain and care for a cut tree. However, many people do prefer the cut trees.

Do not forget you can purchase potted, living trees to plant outdoors after the holidays. With such trees, minimize the time they are kept indoors, keep the room in which they are displayed as cool as possible, and carefully readapt them to the cold environment outside before planting them. If the ground will be frozen at the site where you will plant it, prepare the hole before it freezes, keep the soil moist and fill it with straw mulch that can be easily removed when it is time to plant the tree. Once the trees are planted, mulch the base to moderate soil temperatures and to prevent drying of the soil. Irrigate once a month during the winter increasing frequency as the weather warms and the tree begins growing in the spring.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


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