Skip navigation

The Keys to the Perfect Tree

Bert Cregg surrounded by pine trees.

The Keys to the Perfect Tree

Keep the pine needles off the floor — and the vacuum tucked away — with Professor Bert Cregg’s tree selection tips. Cregg is a professor of both forestry and horticulture at Michigan State University and a Christmas tree specialist.

Hear his tips in the podcast below: 


“When you go out to get a tree, it’s best to get the freshest tree you can. The best way to do that is to go out and cut your own. We have literally dozens and dozens of choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms around the state.”

“I don't think often people appreciate how much water a tree can take up, especially if it's a fresh tree. If you have a choose-and-cut or a fresh tree from a lot, the tree doesn't know it's dead. It's going to keep taking up water and oftentimes, especially its first three or four days to a week when it's first in the house, you can almost hear that giant sucking sound as that tree is taking that water up. Check it daily.”

How much water? 
“We usually estimate about a quart of water per inch of diameter. If you look at the cut end of your tree, it’s typically going to be about three or four inches across for a normal-sized Christmas tree. Well, that means that tree can take up three quarts to a gallon of water a day and most of our stands maybe hold a gallon. Then you have to account for the displacement of the tree itself. Definitely check that tree often and keep the water to it. That's really the biggest thing.”

“Also, think about where you place your tree. Avoid heat sources. If you've got a vent or something, make sure you put the tree away from that. If you can't, maybe use a piece of cardboard or something to block the flow so that air is not going directly onto the tree. If you can keep it away from direct sunlight, too,  that helps. Those things will all help keep the tree fresh.”

“We want to make sure that we're recycling the tree. Some cities have curbside pickup. A lot of other places have central recycling. Look around for that. Oftentimes there's a park where you can drop your tree off and they'll grind it up. Those trees get ground up and made into mulch to go on to trails, beds, and things like that. Definitely, the thing we want to avoid are the trees ending up in a landfill. Make sure that tree gets recycled. Some people live out in the country. They'll put the tree out in the field and it makes for a good bird habitat. There are some places where they drop them down into lakes and it makes fish habitat. There are a lot of ways of doing it, but just make sure that tree gets recycled somehow.”

Visit the Michigan Christmas Tree Association website to find a farm or retail lot near you. 


Contributing Writer(s): Russ White, '82, '01