So you want a fresh tree this year? You can find a grower and cut one down yourself (always an adventure); You can find one already cut at the neighborhood seller; or, You can buy a potted tree. One is not necessarily better than another. 

Cutting live Christmas tree

Photo courtesy Maryland Department of Natural Resources

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Forest Service has put together these tips to help you out in the quest for the freshest tree:

Don’t stress over pre-cut trees

Even though they may have been cut weeks in advance and shipped long distances, most will have been refrigerated for much of the time to keep them fresh. Many local service organizations buy their cut trees from Maryland growers, and these trees tend to be fresher yet.

Here’s how to check freshness in pre-cut trees

  • Bend several needles on the tree. If they spring back into shape, the tree is fresh. If they break or remain bent, the tree has dried out too much.
  • Tap the base of the tree on a hard surface. If many needles fall off, the tree is too dry. The tree should have a pungent evergreen smell, and its branches should be full and springy.
  • Feel the base of the tree. It should be moist and sappy. Make sure that the base is small enough to fit into your stand.

Wrap it for the drive home

This will prevent additional drying. Transporting the tree inside your vehicle will serve the same purpose.

When you get home

Place your tree in the basement or garage for a day or two. Bringing a cold tree immediately into a warm house will shock the tree and cause its needles to drop earlier.

Water, Water, Water

To help the tree absorb water and stay fresh, saw 1 inch off its base, cutting diagonally, and place the tree in a bucket of water until you are ready to mount the tree in its stand. Water your tree daily; a tree absorbs a surprising amount of water.

Limited the time inside for potted trees

Remember that live trees should be kept inside no more than 5 days: A warm home can shock the tree and cause excessive dryness. Oh, and digging a hole beforehand is a good idea because it avoids the problem of frozen ground later.

Spread Christmas to the wildlife when you’re done

Popcorn and fresh cranberries used as decorations will provide food for the birds after the tree is replanted.