ASK MARTHA: Selecting and Caring for Your Live Christmas Tree

With so many varieties grown on farms across the United States, it can be challenging to select the best Christmas tree for you. Using the information gathered below, you’ll be better informed for your visit to your local tree farm.

Question: Hi Martha, can you provide some tips and tricks for selecting and caring for my live Christmas tree?

Martha: With so many varieties grown on farms across the United States, it can be challenging to select the most suitable variety. Using the information below, you’ll be better informed for your visit to your local tree farm. Experienced tree farm growers are ready to help you find the best tree for your needs, and then cut and bale it for you. Can’t make the trek to the country? Urban pop-up retail lots may stock local trees-just avoid tired ones with noticeable needle loss, discolored foliage, a musty odor, or wrinkled bark.

Christmas Tree Varieties Across the US


First, consider either a Fraser Fir or Scotch Pine. These tend to last the longest. Make certain the tree is hardy before purchasing by running your hands along the limbs and looking for fallen needles; also, bend a branch, it should be flexible and bounce back. If the branch snaps or there is heavy needle loss that is a good indication that the tree is not fresh. Once you get your tree home, follow the below advice and enjoy the fresh pine scent.



Before heading out to pick your tree, be sure to measure both the height and width of the area it will be placed. Measure the tree once it is cut, and don’t forget to add some height for your tree stand. A live cut tree can last up to six weeks indoors. To keep it from drying out any sooner than that (and potentially creating a fire hazard), position it as far as possible from any heat sources, like radiators and fireplaces.


Trees are thirsty: A tree with a six-inch trunk can use 1½ gallons of water a day. Plain tap water is fine. Use a stand with a large reservoir and top it off daily. Be sure to give your tree a fresh cut before you set it up. This will help remove any sap that has clogged the base of the trunk.


Your tree is useful after the holidays in several ways; among them are to re-use branches and needles as mulch to cover your garden beds. Another is to use it as a living bird feeder by adding cranberries, fresh orange slices, and other bird-friendly treats. Make sure you set it up in a protected area, giving birds a warmer habitat to hide from the cold. And yes, the squirrels will enjoy it too.


At season’s end, find out if your city offers free disposal; if so, you can leave it curbside or drop it off at a recycling center. Many wildlife sanctuaries also accept donated trees to create shelters for animals; check online for one in your community.

Martha’s Tip: Choosing an Outdoor Wreath

The type of leaves (needles are leaves too!) in any greenery wreath will determine its longevity, indoors or out. Hard-needled conifers, such as white pine and spruce, become brittle indoors and prefer the cold. Cedar and juniper have needles that won’t dry up and fall out, so you can keep them indoors if you wish. (Do the same with cut holly – it can turn black when exposed to freezing cold.) Firs (such as Fraser or Douglas) are also great choices. Look for a wreath with intact boughs – large branches have more sap, which keeps leaves green and perky. See below for instructions for making the wreath in the photo above.

Article by Martha Stewart, as part of the Growing with Martha Stewart partnership.