Helpful tips for finding your live holiday tree

By Connie Mehmel
WSU Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener

Christmas trees in foreground with house in the background.
The overwhelming majority of all live Christmas trees in the U.S. are harvested from Christmas tree farms. – Provided photo/Connie Mehmel
Connie Mehmel
Connie Mehmel – WSU Extension Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener – Provided photo

If you plan to grace your home with a live Christmas tree this holiday season, Washington state is a good place to be. Our state is one of the Top 10 producers of live Christmas trees, with nearly 400 tree farms.

Several of our native species, including Douglas-fir, grand fir and noble fir, are grown in tree farms throughout the U.S. and Canada. They are admired for their fragrance, shape and ability to retain needles from the first of December until New Year’s Day.

Dr. Gary Chastagner, leader of Washington State University’s Christmas Tree Research Program, reported that some noble firs retained their needles for two or three months after being cut. He cautioned, though, that this result depends on excellent care from both the retailer and the consumer.

If you purchase a live tree from a Christmas tree stand or a retail store, I recommend shaking the tree before you buy it and see how well it holds on to its needles. It may have been several weeks since the tree was cut, and you don’t know how it was handled.

If you purchase directly from a tree farm, you may be able to cut your own, or select a tree and have it cut for you. Visiting a tree farm can be a great family experience, and you can bring home a fresh-cut tree just when you are ready to set it up.

Almost all live Christmas trees are grown on farms, where it takes an average of seven years to produce a 6-foot-tall tree. Prices for live trees this year are about $50 to $120, depending on size and species.

If you appreciate the charm of an imperfect tree and you enjoy hiking in the woods, an excellent bargain is a $5 Christmas Tree Permit from the National Forest. Permits can be purchased online at and allow you a tree up to 15 feet tall. Your permit also allows you to dig a tree and take it as a transplant, though if the ground is frozen that may not be an option.

If your selected tree is a long walk from your parking place, you may want to recruit family members or good friends who can help carry the tree out of the woods. Avoid dragging your tree on the ground since this can damage branches and rub off needles. When you bring your tree home, store it outside in a sheltered place away from sun and wind until you are ready to bring it inside.

Whether you buy your tree at a retail outlet or harvest it from a tree farm or a National Forest, once you bring it inside the care is the same.

First, the tree stand must fit your tree. Do not whittle down the sides of the trunk to fit your stand. The outer layers of wood are the most efficient in taking up water and should not be removed.

Before you place your tree in the stand, cut about 1 inch from the stump. This is necessary because as soon as the tree is harvested resin begins to block some of the pores. A fresh cut will improve water uptake. Your tree stand should hold at least one gallon of water.

When you bring your tree indoors, it will detect spring-like conditions and photosynthesis will start again. The tree can easily take up a quart of water per day for the first week. Check the water level daily, and never let it fall below the bottom of the stump.

Enjoy your tree, and Happy Holidays!