Tips for success with your first real Christmas tree

Consider these tips for relieving the stress of buying and setting up your farm-grown Christmas tree this holiday season.

When selecting a farm-grown Christmas tree, make sure it is green and the needles don't fall off too easily.
When selecting a farm-grown Christmas tree, make sure it is green and the needles don't fall off too easily. Photo by MSU Extension.

The scent of a real Christmas tree in the house, the allure of a family outing to select a real tree and the appeal of buying local are among the reasons people buy real Christmas trees. For some, especially people who grew up in households with an artificial tree, buying and setting up a real tree may seem like daunting task. With a little planning, however, having a real tree can add a fun and enjoyable family experience to the holidays. For those that have never had a real Christmas tree in their homes for the holidays, Michigan State University Extension provides these tips to simplify the process.

Where to put your tree

Before buying your tree, decide where in your home you are going to display the tree. Keep the tree away from direct heat sources such as fireplaces or furnace vents because these may cause the tree to use more water and dry faster. Having an electrical outlet near the tree will eliminate the need to run unsightly extension cords to the tree. Double-check there is adequate floor space for the height of tree you want to display. The taper (ratio of tree width to height) of real trees varies, but is usually around two to three. This means you need a space 4-feet wide for a 6-foot tall tree.

Finally, and most importantly, measure the height of your ceiling. Trees usually appear smaller outdoors than they do inside, so measure your tree rather than relying on the “eyeball test” when picking out your tree at a tree lot or choose-and-cut farm.

Real Christmas tree options: Pre-cut versus choose-and-cut

Consumers can buy trees already cut at a tree lot or they can cut their own at a choose-and-cut farm. Common options for buying pre-cut trees include big box stores and supermarkets, garden centers and freestanding tree lots. Pre-cut trees at box stores or supermarkets offer the convenience of buying trees while doing other shopping. Buying at garden centers or stand-alone tree lots supports local businesses or, in some cases, charitable groups such as scout troops or churches.

Pre-cut trees are usually grown on large farms that specialize in wholesale production, are harvested and then shipped to retail outlets. Choose-and-cut farms are usually smaller tree farms where consumers can wander fields, find their tree and cut the tree with saws provided by the farm. Many choose-and-cut farms also provide family-themed agritainment, such as hay wagon rides, petting zoos, bonfires, gift shops and hot chocolate or cider stands.

Read “Real Christmas trees: Which one is right for you?” and "Christmas trees for connoisseurs: Try an exotic species this year" by MSU Extension for help in choosing the right Christmas tree for you and your family.


Want to find a Christmas tree farm near you? Visit the Michigan Christmas Tree Association website to see choose-and cut-farms, retail lots and wholesale farms in your area.

Making sure your tree is fresh

To keep your tree fresh and hydrated, follow the guidelines in “Making your real Christmas tree last through the holidays” from MSU Extension. If you cut your own tree at a choose-and-cut farm, you know the tree is fresh. If you can’t put the tree up in your house right away, store in a garage or other unheated space with the cut end in a bucket of water until you are ready to display it in your house.

For pre-cut trees, do the pull test. Gently pull on the end of the branch with your thumb and forefinger. Fresh trees should hold onto all their needles. If a tree loses needles when you do the pull test, keep looking.


Setting up your tree in a stand

For many people, the most stress-inducing step of having a real Christmas tree is putting the tree in a stand and getting it to stand straight. A simple way around this issue is using a drill stand. Many tree lots, choose-and cut-farms and retail lots will drill trees with specially-designed drills that match the pin in the stand, ensuring trees stand upright and straight.

For traditional, screw-in stands, recognize that this is a two-person job. Place the stand on the bottom of the tree before standing the tree up. The best plan of attack is to have one person adjust the tightening screws on the stand while the second person adjusts the tree and checks for straightness.

pin stands
Pin- or spike-type stands can make tree set-up easier. Photo by Wahmhoff Farms.
mutch drill
Tree farm attendants drill for the base of a tree for a pin-type tree stand. Photo by Mutch Hidden Pines Tree Farm.

For all types of tree stands, keep the baling twine on the tree until the tree is in the stand and upright. This keeps the tree compact and easier to handle as you bring it in the house and get it situated in the stand.

Take-down tips

Consider these tips in order to reduce the mess of getting a tree out of the house after the holidays. Use a turkey baster or a large sponge to transfer any water remaining in the tree stand to a bucket or plastic container. To reduce the amount of needles lost while taking the tree out, lay a bedsheet on the floor and gently lay the tree down on it. Wrap the sheet around the tree to collect any loose needles they may come off while taking the tree out of the house.

Recycling: The last step

Recycle your tree at the end of the holidays. Some communities have curbside tree pick-up for recycling and many others have central drop-off points. Check your local paper or community websites for recycling options in your area.

For more tips on recycling and interactive maps of choose-and-cut and retail lots in Michigan, visit the Michigan Christmas Tree Association.

More information on selecting and caring for your Christmas tree from MSU Extension


Tip sheets:


Dr. Cregg's work is funded in part by MSU's AgBioResearch.

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