Home & Garden

Choosing and caring for your holiday tree

Nothing makes a home more festive or aromatic over the holidays than a freshly cut Christmas tree. The Christmas tree has become such a recognizable symbol and a part of the holidays over generations. Long before Christmas trees as we know them today were around, trees that remained green year-round had special meaning. Many ancient cultures believed that evergreens would protect against ills and evil spirits and hung boughs over doorways and windows.


Select the freshest-looking tree available. To test for freshness, gently grasp a branch between your thumb and forefinger and pull it toward you. Very few needles should come off in your hand. Shake or bounce the tree on its stump. You should not see an excessive amount of green needles fall to the ground. Some loss of interior brown needles is normal.

Care for your cut Christmas tree as you would a bouquet of fresh flowers. Make a straight cut across the base of the trunk, taking off about an inch and immediately place the trunk in water. Check the water level often — a fresh tree may absorb several pints to a gallon of water each day. Place the tree in a cool spot, away from your television and other appliances.

After the season, it’s easy to compost your tree in San Francisco. Each year, tens of thousands of Christmas trees are collected throughout the city, chipped, and used as boiler fuel at waste-to-energy facilities. Recology Sunset Scavenger and Recology Golden Gate ( will pick up trees left curbside the first two weeks in January. Please note: All ornaments, including the tinsel, must be removed, as well as plastic and metal stands. Trees with wood stands are collectable, but please do not put them in plastic bags.


Buy a tree that is suited to your climate zone. Think about where you’ll eventually plant your tree, and buy the right tree for that location. Or plan to donate it to a Bay Area park after the holiday season (visit for information).

Pick up your live tree by the pot — not by the stem. Many live plants start their decline during careless transport. Keep your live tree indoors for no more than 10 days and locate it well away from any heat source, keeping it well watered, but not sitting in water.

After its holiday tour of duty, move your live tree to an outdoor location where it will get filtered sunlight and protection from wind. Allow it two to three weeks to acclimatize in this interim location, and then put it where it will stay until next December, or plant it. You can keep the same live tree in its container through several holiday seasons, depending on how fast it grows, but plant it before it becomes root-bound.


Just like in every aspect of our world today, Christmas trees have come under scrutiny regarding their sustainability. Many have firm beliefs as to what constitutes a Christmas tree. Here are some pros and cons to help you make the best choice for your home.

Fresh: One obvious asset to a real tree is the scent that permeates the entire house; another is the tradition of choosing one. Nearly all Christmas trees in the United States are sustainably farmed these days and are probably somewhat local. Most tree farms plant two or three trees for every harvested tree, which takes about 7–10 years to reach “cut size.” During that time, the trees absorb carbon dioxide, contribute oxygen to the environment, and provide a habitat for birds and animals, in addition to creating green space and preserving the land from development. While real trees are compostable, the downsides are that they are used only one season, and they may be farmed using pesticides and fertilizers.

Faux: Though an artificial tree can be a pricey investment, over the years, it can be a worthwhile one. Set up and dismantling are easy, and they don’t drop needles. Many come conveniently prelighted and their realism has greatly improved down to softness of needles. On the downside, they contain PVC and possibly other plastics (so they will never biodegrade), are often treated with fire-retardant chemicals, and most are made overseas, which adds to their environmental footprint.

Potted: An obvious advantage is that a potted tree can be used year after year and then planted when it becomes too large to move. There are several considerations, including buying a tree suited to your climate and where you might eventually plant the tree, but if you don’t mind hauling in the tree each year, there’s really no downside.


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Julia Strzesieski is the marketing coordinator at Cole Hardware and can be reached at [email protected].