Customer Resources

Handling Christmas Trees on the Retail Lot

Quality Christmas Trees can be made available to consumers only if proper handling procedures are followed during harvest, shipping, storage and display. The retail lot is a critical point in this process where trees are often maintained in less than optimal conditions. However, by observing a few simple guidelines, the retailer can provide customers with fresher, more desirable trees.

Care and Handling Procedures

Heat, wind and sunlight are the greatest enemies to maintaining freshness of cut Christmas trees. At temperatures above 70 degrees F, unbaled trees on retail lots can lose up to half their moisture in as little as 24 hours. Any technique which increases the humidity of the air surrounding the trees will slow the rate of moisture loss, thereby maintaining freshness. Trees are best stored by keeping them upright in a cool shady place, out of high traffic areas.

Shading can also prevent “stringburn”, in which needles adjacent to the baling string turn brown, a baled tree in direct sunlight can develop string burn in less than 30 minutes. If permanent shade is not available, a tarp or shade cloth can be used to protect trees from sunlight and wind. However, any shade should be suspended above the trees and down the sides with at least a 2-foot air space above and outside the trees to avoid over-heating.

Misting trees at night to provide moisture can be beneficial. Retailers in warm climates sometimes store baled trees with their trunks in a pool of water, formed by lining wooden or dirt troughs with plastic or tarp. Trunks can also be placed in moist sawdust as a method to maintain moisture content of the trees. Piles of baled trees should not be soaked with water as mold and defoliation can occur, particularly in warm temperatures. For trees to adequately take up water, a fresh cut on the tree’s base may be necessary prior to storage or display.

Trees should be handled carefully while being unloaded from trucks, placed in and out of storage, and delivered to customers. Walking on baled trees breaks limbs and crushes foliage. In freezing conditions, extra caution is needed as trees can become quite brittle.

Displayed trees should be sold on a “first in, first out” basis. Coding on tree tags is one easy way to keep track of how long each tree has been on display.

Both growers and sellers of Christmas trees benefit if fresh, high-quality trees reach the consumers. If proper procedures are followed in handling, storage and display, trees sold on the retail lot will meet those requirements.

NOTE: This publication summarizes information contained in North Carolina State University publications “Grower Postharvest Handling Christmas Trees”, CTN-015 and “Retail Merchandising of North Carolina Fraser Fir”, CTN-017. These publications should be consulted for additional information.


Several points should be emphasized by retailers to their customers:

A fresh cut of 1/2 inch should be made on the trunk prior to placing in water for display.
The trunk should not be allowed to get dirty or muddy, thereby interfering with water uptake.
The tree should be displayed in a stand with sufficient water-holding capacity and the stand should be refilled each day.
Trees typically require one quart of water per day for each inch of trunk diameter.

Retailers should also remind customers that fresh Christmas trees, kept well-watered, are almost impossible to set afire, but to display trees away from heat and possible sources of ignition (stoves, fireplaces, etc.)

A common question relates to the possible advantages of water additives for prolonging freshness. These additives include such compounds as aspirin, sugar, cola, and various commercial products. Research has shown that additives provide no real benefit, and may even aggravate the shedding of needles. The only essential ingredient for maintaining tree freshness is plenty of clean water in the tree stand.

Consumer Care and Selection of Real Christmas TREES

Selecting the right tree:

First, do a freshness test. Gently grasp a branch between your thumb and forefinger and pull it toward you. Very few needles should come off in your hand if the tree is fresh. Second, take a look at the ground around the tree. You should not see excessive amounts of green needles on the ground. Some interior loss of brown needles is normal and will occur over the lifetime of the tree. Fresh Fraser Fir needles should be crisp and break when bent between fingers.

Prepare your tree:

Keep your tree it in a sheltered, unheated area such as a porch or garage to protect it from the wind and sun until you’re ready to decorate it. Before you set up your tree, make a fresh, straight cut across the base of the trunk (about a quarter of an inch up from the original cut) and place the tree in a tree stand that holds at least one gallon of water.

Care for your tree:

Real trees need water daily. Never let your tree stand go dry! A seal of dried sap will form over the cut sump if the water drops below the base of the tree preventing the tree from absorbing water when the tree stand is refilled. If a seal does form, another fresh cut will need to be made.

A tree will absorb over a gallon of water in the first 24 hours and one or more quarts a day thereafter. Water is important because it prevents the needles from drying and the boughs from drooping.

In addition, keep your tree away from heat and draft sources like fireplaces, radiators and television sets. Test your light cords and connections before hanging them on the tree to make sure they’re in good working order. You don’t want to use cords with cracked insulation or broken or empty sockets. Also, be sure to unplug lights before you go to bed or leave the house.

Sensible precautions such as these will help preserve the unique beauty and tradition only a real Christmas tree can provide.


One of our customers donates their leftover retail lot trees to a sanctuary for tigers and lions! These huge cats love to play and roll on the Christmas trees, especially the Fraser and Concolor fir!

After the holidays, don’t throw your Real Christmas Tree in the trash or set it on the curb. Real Christmas Trees are biodegradable, which means they can be easily reused or recycled for mulch and other purposes. Here are some recycling options and tips on what to do with your tree after the holidays. Every community is different, but in general, you have these options:

Curbside pick-up for recycling: Most areas will collect trees during their regular pickup schedules on the two weeks following Christmas. There are often requirements for size, removing ornaments, flocking, etc.

Take your tree to a drop off recycling center: Most counties have free drop-off locations throughout the county. Usually, you may take up to two trees to a drop-off location at no charge.

Yard waste: Cut the tree to fit loosely into your yard waste container.

Tree recycling/mulching programs: Tree recycling and mulching programs are a fast-growing trend in communities throughout the nation. Check with your local department of public works for information. They chip and shred the trees, then make the mulch available for use in your garden. Your hauler will notify you of pick-up dates in your area. Be sure to check with your local hauler.

Nonprofit pickup: Call for an appointment to have a nonprofit organization in your area pickup your tree. Some Boy Scout troops offer a pickup service for a small donation (often $5).

Other Recycling Options
Soil erosion barriers: Some communities use Christmas trees to make effective sand and soil erosion barriers, especially for lake and river shoreline stabilization and river delta sedimentation management.

Fish feeders: Sunk into private fish ponds, trees make an excellent refuge and feeding area for fish.

Bird feeders: Place the Christmas tree in the garden or backyard and use it as a bird feeder and sanctuary. Fresh orange slices or strung popcorn will attract the birds and they can sit in the branches for shelter. (Make sure all decorations, hooks, garland and tinsel strands are removed). Eventually (within a year) the branches will become brittle and you can break the tree apart by hand or chip it in a chipper. See this article from Perdue University for more information.

Mulch: A Christmas tree is biodegradable; its branches may be removed, chipped, and used as mulch in the garden. If you have a neighbor with a chipper, see if he will chip it for you.

Paths for hiking trails: Some counties use the shredded trees as a free, renewable and natural path material that fits both the environment and the needs of hikers!

Living, rooted trees: Of course, next year, you could get a rooted (ball and burlap or containerized) tree and then plant it in your yard after Christmas. (It’s a good idea to pre-dig the hole in the late fall while the soil is still soft, then plant the tree into that hole immediately after Christmas.) Living trees have a better survival rate in mild climates.

Important: Never burn your Christmas tree in a fireplace or wood stove.