Sorting through the Christmas tree lot

Posted12/1/2019 6:00 AM

Q: This year my family wants a real Christmas tree. What are the characteristics of the different varieties? And what is the best way to choose a tree?

A: There are many species of conifers that are available in our area during the holiday season. However, some have more desirable characteristics than others so here is a short list of what you may find while shopping for trees and what to know about each species.


Douglas fir: Once this variety has been cut, its blue and dark green needles will remain on the branches for up to three to four weeks. Douglas fir has a decent aroma, but aroma will be enhanced when the needles are crushed. Its branches are spread out and have a drooping habit, but it has a nice conical silhouette.

Scotch pine: Will hold its 1-inch dark green needles for up to four weeks and will remain on the branches even after it has dried out. Scotch pine has stiff, open branches that allow for heavy ornaments and substantial decoration. This variety will have lasting aroma throughout the holidays.

White pine: White pine has long (2 to 5 inches) blue-green needles that will remain throughout the holiday season. Its thin branches don't allow for many decorations compared to other Christmas tree varieties. White pine has little to no fragrance and will do well in homes with individuals that have allergies.

Blue spruce: If kept in a warm location within a home after being cut, it will drop its sharp needles; however, in proper conditions, it is the best variety for needle retention. Blue spruce is distinguished by its dark green or dusty blue needles and its sturdy branches allow for heavy decorations.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service

Balsam fir: Its soft, flat needles are dark green with silver undersides. It has excellent needle retention and fragrance throughout the holiday season. Its open branching allows for dangling ornaments.

Fraser fir: Its blue-green needles have silver undersides that have good aroma and excellent retention. The Fraser fir's branches are stiff and can withstand heavy decoration.

Regarding what tree you choose for the holiday season, always look for fresh needles that aren't falling off and trees that appear to have been freshly cut. When you bring your tree home, always keep it hydrated for the longest needle retention and display away from all heat sources.

-- Jessica Stema

• Provided through the Master Gardener Answer Desk, Friendship Park Conservatory, Des Plaines, and University of Illinois Extension, North Cook Branch Office, Arlington Heights. Call (847) 298-3502 on Wednesdays and Saturdays or (708) 725-2400 on Tuesdays or email Visit

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.