URBANA -- Some people think that a real Christmas tree is essential to a proper Christmas, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

“The following are a few hints to help you choose that perfect tree, whether you purchase it from a neighborhood lot or a Christmas tree farm,” said Ron Wolford.

Decide where to place the tree before heading out to buy it. Pick a spot away from heat sources, such as TVs, fireplaces, radiators, and air ducts. A dried-out tree is a safety hazard. Make sure the tree is clear of doors.

Remember to choose a tree that fits where it is to be displayed. For example, if the tree is displayed in front of a large window, then all four sides should look as good as possible. If the tree is displayed against a wall, a tree with three good sides would be all right. A tree with two good sides works in a corner. The more perfect the tree, the more expensive it will be.

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“There is nothing worse than bringing a tree indoors only to find it's too tall,” Wolford said. “Use a tape measure to measure the height and width of the space you have available. Take the tape measure with you to the farm or retail lot to measure your chosen tree and bring a cord to tie your tree to the car.”

If purchasing a tree from a retail lot, go during the day. Choosing a tree in daylight is much easier than trying to pick one out in a dimly lit lot.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, consumers should not worry about the quality of trees they can find this year, no matter what the weather was like in the summer. Summer weather patterns have not affected trees harvested this year.

Wolford advises consumers to do some research on different Christmas tree varieties. Some hold needles longer or have a longer-lasting fragrance than others.

He warned that trees sold on retail lots in urban areas may have come from out of state and may have been exposed to drying winds in transit. They may have been cut weeks earlier.

“Choose a fresh tree, one that has a healthy green appearance with few browning needles. Needles should be flexible and not fall off if you run a branch through your hand,” he advised.

“Raise the tree a few inches off the ground and drop it on the butt end. Very few green needles should drop off the tree. It is normal for a few inner brown needles to drop. Make sure the handle or base of the tree is straight and 6 to 8 inches long so it will fit easily into your stand.”

Buy the tree early, before the best trees have been sold. Ask the retailer whether his trees are delivered once at the beginning of the season or at different times during the selling season. Purchasing a tree from a Christmas tree farm ensures that the tree is fresh.

If the tree will not be put up right away, store it in an unheated garage or some other area out of wind and freezing temperatures. Make a fresh 1-inch cut on the butt end and place the tree in a bucket of warm water.

After bringing the tree indoors, make another fresh 1-inch cut and place it in a sturdy stand that holds at least 1 gallon of water. Fill the stand with1 quart of water for every inch of diameter of the trunk. Be sure to keep the water level above the base of the tree. If the base dries out, resin will form over the cut end. The tree will not be able to absorb water and will dry out quickly.

“According to the National Christmas Tree Association, drilling a hole in the base of the trunk does NOT improve water uptake,” he said.

“Commercially prepared mixes; aspirin; sugar and other additives added to the water are not necessary. Research has shown that plain water will keep a tree fresh.”

For more information, please check out the University of Illinois Extension web site “Christmas Trees and More” at www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/trees.

Information from Susan Jonganeel at the University of Illinois