Tips on finding the perfect Christmas tree About 36 million traditional Christmas trees will be sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and a few tips can help the holiday shopper find the perfect tree. South Dakota State University Extension Forestry Specialist John Ball said that although artificial trees enjoyed increased sales for the past decade, those sales have stagnated and now there is a return to having the traditional tree. "A traditional Christmas tree is also the environmentally friendly way to celebrate the holidays," Ball said. "The average artificial Christmas tree has a life span of six years before it ends up in a landfill. The traditional Christmas tree, while used only one season, can be converted to valuable mulch, a winter bird feeder, or even fish habitat after the holidays." Ball offered these tips on picking out a Christmas tree. • Obtain the freshest tree by harvesting it yourself at one of the many choose-and-cut farms in the state. • If you can't harvest the tree yourself, check for freshness at a Christmas tree sales lot. First, give the tree a shake. If it is fresh, only a few interior needles should fall off of the tree. If a pile of brown needles appears on the ground below the tree, particularly from the branch tips, it is not a fresh tree. Next, take a branch and pull it gently through your hand. The needles should bend, not break, as your fingers run across them and the branch should bend slightly. • Once you get the tree home, leave it outside while you set up the stand. The choice of a stand is probably the most critical factor in maintaining the freshness of the tree once in the home. The stand should be able to hold one-half gallon to one gallon of water, as the tree may absorb up to this amount in the first day. A good rule of thumb is that a tree will use 1 quart of water per day for every inch trunk diameter at the base. If you have a tree with a three-inch base, it may use three quarts of water per day. • Just before you bring the tree in the house, cut the base about one inch from the bottom. This will open the sap-filled pores and allow water to be absorbed. The cut does not have to be slanted. Once the tree is in the stand add water and never left the stand become empty. If the stand is empty for more than six hours, the tree's pores will plug up. Water uptake is significantly reduced and the needles will soon begin to fall. At this point there is nothing that can be done other than pull the tree out of the stand and re-cut the base — not a pleasant task once the lights and ornaments are on. Nothing needs to be added to the water in the stand to improve needle retention. The commercial products that say they increase freshness do not significantly increase the life of the tree and neither do home remedies. • To prolong the freshness of the tree, place the stand in a spot that receives only indirect light from the window, and be careful not to place it near a heat duct. This will reduce water loss from the tree. Another tip is to start out with a clean stand. Wash the stand out with a water–bleach solution, about a capful of bleach to a cup of water, to reduce the microorganisms that may also plug up the tree's pores. • Each species of tree has it good points but the Fraser fir is probably one of the favorites. The tree is very fragrant, has excellent needle retention and the branches are stiff enough to hold ornaments. Balsam fir is another good choice though the needles do not last as long and the branches are not quite as stiff. Canaan fir, another popular fir, appears to have qualities similar to Fraser fir and is also becoming a popular Christmas tree. • Scotch pine is probably the most popular Christmas tree in the country. It also is very fragrant, has excellent needle retention, and the branches are stiff. White pine is another pine commonly sold at Christmas tree stands and has a fair fragrance, but the needle retention is not quite as good as Scotch pine and the branches are very flexible, which means heavy ornaments may fall off. Spruces are not as popular of Christmas trees, primarily due to the poor needle retention. If you want to have a blue spruce, you might want to wait until a couple of weeks before Christmas, as the needles may only last that long. Blue spruce has the best needle retention of the spruces, but it isn't very fragrant. The branches are very stiff and can support the heaviest ornaments. White spruce or Black Hills spruce is not commonly available though it is used in the Black Hills. It does make a nice tree, particularly when cut fresh, but it is less fragrant than some other choices.