NC State Extension

How Fresh Are Your Trees?

Defining Christmas Tree Freshness

  • Fresh Christmas trees look and feel the same as they did before they were cut.
  • They have supple foliage, a natural dark green color, and a tight hold on their needles.
  • Fresh Christmas trees have the capacity to take up water when the consumer displays it in his or her home.
  • A fresh Christmas tree will look almost as good displayed after Christmas as when it was first decorated.

Freshness of Fraser Fir as Defined by Moisture Content

  • Fresh — Greater than 100% Moisture Content
    • The tree is in good condition and able to rapidly take up water under proper care.
    • Fresh trees will perform well in the home and represent no fire hazard.
Fresh tree displayed in water and shade

Fresh tree displayed in water and shade

  • Somewhat Fresh — 80 to 100% Moisture Content
    • The tree is still capable of slowly taking up water under proper care.
    • The tree performs normally in the home with no fire hazard.
Somewhat fresh tree

Somewhat fresh tree

  • Dry — Less than 80% Moisture Content
    • The tree is unlikely to take up water even under proper care and likely to continue to dry out.
    • Dry trees at the time of purchase represent quality and safety issues for your consumers.
Dry tree

Dry tree

Different tree species will have different moisture content thresholds from Fraser fir.

Fresh Tree — Dry Tree Comparison

Fresh Trees Dry Trees
  • Readily take up water provided in the stand.
  • Resist ignition from an open flame.
  • Branches and needles remain limber.
  • Usually hold onto needles.
  • Maintain their original color.
  • Trunk can crack if exposed to rapid drying.
  • Take up water from stand slowly, if at all.
  • Will ignite if a flame or spark is provided.
  • Branches and needles become stiff and brittle.
  • Will often lose needles.
  • Bleach out to a pale green or yellow-green.
  • Unlikely to develop a new crack if wood is dry.

Over the 2003-2005 harvest seasons, NC State University faculty visited North Carolina Christmas tree farms and retail lots in North Carolina and Florida. The survey consisted of:The 2003-2005 NCSU Retailer Survey

  1. Determining moisture content from foliage samples from cut Christmas trees on North Carolina farms.
  2. Determining moisture content of stored and displayed trees on retail lots.
  3. Evaluating Christmas tree retailers’ tree care techniques.

The results of this survey were:

  • Trees were very fresh on North Carolina farms.
  • Freshness problems occurred in all retailer segments, particularly store-front displays and independent lots with no irrigation.
  • Successes also occurred in all retailer segments associated with the following practices:
    Multiple deliveries
    Providing shade
    Frequent irrigation
    Displayed trees in water

Observations regarding retail tree care from the survey included:

  • Southern exposure can be overcome with optimal care.
  • Trees that are irrigated during storage and display stay fresher.
  • Daily watering is better than occasional watering.
  • Full shade is better than partial shade. Partial shade is better than full sun.
  • Wind barriers preserve moisture.
  • Multiple deliveries provide fresher trees than single deliveries.

Freshness Survey Report — More detailed information from the 2003-2005 retailer survey