UF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service

458 Highway 98 North

Okeechobee, FL 34972-2578

Phone: (863) 763-6469

E- mail:  dfculbert@ifas.ufl.edu

November 29, 2006,

Quick Links: Artificial Trees   Live Trees  Tree Care   REAL Trees   Tree Festival   References    

Feature Article - for release the week of December 3, 2006

Dan Culbert - Extension Horticulture Agent

 Got Trees?

Early in the holiday season is the right time to talk about Christmas Trees for your Florida home.  I’ve written a lot about them over the years, but now it’s time to ask locals what they want to know about this festive decoration.

Okeechobee Master Gardeners gave me a number of questions about “Ye ole Tannenbaum.  Hopefully the answers will help readers of today’s column be safe, learn something new, and have a deeper enjoyment of the magical times that come with The Season.

Should I consider an artificial Christmas Tree?  How do I water it?  And can I put real candles on an artificial tree?

Arguments given in favor of artificial trees may include less cost, less mess, easier to put up, safer, and it can be used for many years.  But as a horticulture agent, my bias for REAL trees will show below. 

The sticker price of artificial trees can be as wide as that of REAL trees.  But as you are pricing them out, think about the hidden costs. According to the US Department of Commerce, in 2005 the US spent $131 million on 9.2 million imported fake trees. This works out to an average of $14.25 per tree. 

What these costs fail to consider are that most fake trees are produced in foreign lands, which are getting enough of our dollars.  Some may be produced in sweat shops, while others may contain hazardous materials.  Ultimately when fake trees get worn or go out of style they will fill our landfills, not our compost piles.

As to their safety: a test by a suburban Detroit fire department showed that a well maintained REAL tree was more fire resistant than an artificial variety. (See the photographic evidence below!)  And as far as the candles are concerned, open candle flames will burn every kind of Christmas tree - don’t try it!

Before - Artificial Tree  

Here's a fake tree before (above) and after (right) it was set on fire.

After - Artificial Tree

Before - Real Tree 

Compare the damage to REAL tree, before (above) and after (right).  Which one do you want in your home?  Photos courtesy Farmington Hills Fire Department

After - Real Tree


Can I dig up a wild tree or buy a nursery tree and plant it in my yard?  Will I have to pre-dig the planting hole?

Yes, Virginia, a LIVE Christmas tree (one with its roots) can be a wonderful addition to your family tradition.  I don’t recommend that you dig a tree from the wild or from your Florida Yard, as they will suffer transplant shock and probably die.  And wild trees will usually lack the “perfect shape” we look for in Christmas trees.

Nursery grown Christmas trees can be kept in their containers, brought inside and decorated.  Be sure to consider the container height of the tree when fitting a LIVE Christmas tree to your home.   Soil moisture needs to be carefully monitored to keep them safe and alive.  There are also many smaller container plants that can be used as small “Tabletop Trees” if space is a problem.

For post-holiday planting, be advised that January is the best time to plant trees in Florida.  Check with our Master Gardeners for tree planting tips that will get trees up and growing in your Florida Yard.  Remember there are certain trees that just won’t do well in Florida, like the Norfolk Island Pine.  And you will not need to pre-dig the hole, as it’s doubtful that a hard freeze will make Florida soil to hard to dig.


How do I keep a REAL tree from dropping needles all over the house?  And why do I have to have the stump cut at the tree lot?

The best way to prevent needle drop is to choose a fresh tree and keep it moist.  Thumping the stem of a cut tree on the ground will cause some needles to drop - but if too many fall off, don’t pick that tree.  

Cutting the stump opens up some fresh wood that will quickly absorb water when the tree is placed in the stand.  I like to put the tree in with water and let it sit outside in a shady area for a day before I haul it inside.  I also tap it again on the ground just before I bring it inside to get any more loose needles to fall.  If you need to drag it over carpet, consider laying down drop-cloths on the floor to catch any needle drop.

Local charities like the Okeechobee Lions Club have seasonal tree lots with lots of REAL  trees are for sale. This is a Fraser Fir from North Carolina.  Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS


Cutting your own tree can be done in Florida, but will involve a little bit of travel. Check out the Florida Christmas Tree Association website to find the nearest location. Photo courtesy Ergle Christmas Tree Farm.

What’s the best kind of REAL tree for Florida?

There are many, many choices of REAL trees that can be found at charity tree lots (e.g. Lions Club or Shriners),  local garden centers (e.g. Tree Locators) or supermarkets.  Choices are based on how much you can afford to spend, the quality you are looking for, needle retention, softness and fragrance.

Florida has Christmas Tree farms where you can cut your own tree.  Most are in north Florida, but the closest is in Lake County.  If you are traveling north towards Daytona, Ocala, or Gainesville, see our website to find Florida Christmas Tree Association members.

The National Christmas Tree Association’s website has good descriptions of the more common Christmas tree species.  They miss listing some of our local native trees (e.g. Southern Red Cedar, Sand Pine) and haven’t caught up to some of the newer trends in Christmas trees.  For example, the latest trendy trees are two kinds of Arizona Cypress called Carolina Sapphire and Blue Ice.  (For some photos and more details on this beautiful tree, go to our website or stop by our office.

Southern Red Cedar can be used as either live or cut Christmas trees.  Photo: FCTA  

Sand Pines are Florida natives available as a choose and cut tree. Photo: UF/IFAS

  A closeup of the foliage from the Arizona Cypress variety, Blue Ice,  gives an idea that this may be an attractive Christmas Tree choice. Photo: Robert Redmond, Univ. Alabama Huntsville 'Carolina Sapphire' is a cultivar of Arizona Cypress, an evergreen native to the southwest US that is now being grown in the SE US for Christmas trees. Photo: FCTA


I give up - can I get a pre-decorated tree that I can just put up and enjoy?

OK, so I haven’t convinced you to go REAL, huh?  Well the best alternative I know of is to bid on a tree at Hospice of Okeechobee’s Festival of Trees.  It’s going on right now at 411 SE 4th Street here in Okeechobee.  You can bid on a pre-decorated Christmas Tree and if you are the highest bidder at 5 PM on December 10th, you can take it home. 

Two Okeechobee 4-H Clubs have donated trees to the Festival.  But Master Gardener Terry Lane does not want you to bid on the Okeechobee Master Gardener Tree, which comes complete with a wheelbarrow and lots of other gardening goodies.  Just between you and me, I’d love to see our Gardener’s handiwork go for much more than current asking price of $65.00.  Please visit the Festival of Trees and give as much as you can for this very worthy cause!

Okeechobee Master Gardeners Angela Sachson, Terry Lane, and Harold Mounts prepare their "Christmas tree" for the Festival of Trees. Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS

Terry makes a few more adjustments and the tree is ready for your bids until December 10th at Hospice of Okeechobee, 411 SE 4th Street. Call Rhonda Peterman for details (467-2321) Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS

Do check for more information on our Okeechobee web page, http://okeechobee.ifas.ufl.edu.  If you need additional information on Christmas Trees, please email us at okeechobee@ifas.ufl.edu or call us at 863-763-6469.  Local residents can stop by our office at 458 Hwy 98 North in Okeechobee, and visit our Okeechobee County Master Gardeners from 1 to 3 PM on Tuesday afternoons. Happy Holidays!


Trade names, where used, are given for the purpose of providing specific information. They do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of products named, nor does it imply criticism of products not named. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin.  Florida Cooperative Extension Service / IFAS / University of Florida.  Larry A.  Arrington, Dean. Last update: 12/05/2006


McKenna, Erin K and Culbert, D.F. Christmas Trees. Gainesville: UF/IFAS Extension Solutions For Your Life website, 12/1/2006. http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/hot_topics/families_and_consumers/christmas_trees.html

Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services: