How To Buy A Real Christmas Tree: Selection, Care And Safety Tips To Pick The Best

on December 04 2013 12:24 PM
christmas tree
Balsam fir, Douglas fir, Fraser fir, noble fir and Scotch pine are the five most popular Christmas tree species, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. Flickr/Lauren-janelle

Whether it’s a yearly tradition or your family wants to start a new one, picking the perfect Christmas tree can be tricky.

For traditionalists who eschew the idea of an artificial tree, revel in the fresh smell of pine, and don’t mind the needles on the floor, below are tips for choosing the best type of tree for your home:

When Should I Buy My Tree?

The weekend after Thanksgiving is when most Christmas trees find their seasonal homes. Earlier is better, since it will reduce competition for the best trees and ensure you get a fresh tree that will last. Fresh-cut trees usually last between four to six weeks. The key is keeping your tree hydrated throughout the holiday season.

To find the closest Christmas tree farm near you, use the National Christmas Tree Association locator.

As an alternative to visiting the local tree lot, thousands of families opt to buy their Christmas trees online. Tree dealers like The Christmas Tree Company offer a wide selection of fresh-cut trees delivered to your door without the hassle.

Before you go to the lot or shop online…

- Remember to measure the ceiling height of the room where the tree will be displayed. Make sure the tree you pick is at least one foot shorter than the ceiling height (to accommodate the tree stand and the topper).

- Measure the width of the area of the room. Most trees are trimmed to an 80 percent taper, meaning a 10-foot-tall tree will be 8 inches wide at the bottom. That is, a tree that may fit a room vertically may be too big horizontally.

- Also, don’t forget to measure the opening of the tree stand to make sure the tree trunk will fit. And, remember to bring a measuring tape with you.

What Are The Different Kinds Of Trees?

A Christmas tree lot can house a ton of different kinds of tannenbaums. Depending on where you go, some retailers will sell pre-cut trees while others will let you do the chopping yourself. The advantage of pre-cut trees is convenience, while cutting your own tree adds longevity to your purchase.

According to David Stenger, manager of the National Christmas Tree Association, there are five Christmas-tree varieties that offer the best shape, color and retention among the pack: balsam fir, Douglas fir, Fraser fir, noble fir and Scotch pine.

Here are some pros and cons for each popular tree type:

Balsam firs tout a dark green color with flexible branches that might not be best for heavy ornaments. It has a great shape, holds needles well and has a great fragrance.

Douglas firs are shaped like a pyramid and usually have blue to dark-green needles. They are dependable, live long and flourish in mild and humid climates.

Fraser firs boast deep green on top and silver-white needles on their lower half. Their slender shape makes them ideal for small rooms. As long as the tree is properly watered, a Fraser fir will have great needle retention.

Noble firs have well-spaced, sturdy branches with needles that curve upwards, which can be great for heavy ornaments.  

Scotch pine trees have sharp needles that can create a prickly situation when you're trying to decorate. The National Christmas Tree Association says Scotch pines are great for their needle retention, resist drying and won’t drop needles even if they get dry.

What Should I Look For?

When you’re at the lot, make sure to look for trees with bright, vibrant colors. Ones that have been recently harvested are best. Ask the retailer whether trees are delivered at the beginning of the season or several shipments throughout. This will determine how fresh the trees are and when they were cut.

Shake the tree in question to test its needle retention. If many needles fall to the ground, move on. Take time to bend the tree’s outer branches. If they are brittle and snap easily, the tree is too dry.

“A fresh tree will have a healthy green appearance with few browning needles. Needles should be flexible and not fall off if you run a branch through your hand. Raise the tree a few inches off the ground and drop it on the butt end. Very few green needles should drop off the tree. It is normal for a few inner brown needles to drop,” according to Ron Wolford, a University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator.

Take time to inspect both fresh-cut and live trees to see if there are insects or other pests. Also, make sure the base of the tree is straight, between six to nine inches wide max, to fit easily into your stand.

If you plan on storing the tree before displaying it, keep it in an unheated garage or another area safe from wind and freezing temperatures.

“Make a fresh, 1-inch cut on the butt end and place the tree in a bucket of warm water. When you decide to bring the tree indoors, make another fresh 1-inch cut and place the tree in a sturdy stand that holds at least 1 gallon of water. Another is 1 quart of water for every inch of diameter of the trunk,” Wolford said.

Taking The Tree Home

Once you’ve made your decision, tree lot helpers will help cut the stump of your tree. Try to avoid tying the tree to the roof of your car. Winds generated from highway speeds could dry out the tree. Keeping the tree inside your vehicle is best, covered in a tarp or net.

Place a tarp or blanket in your car’s cargo area to catch any loose needles. If transporting the tree in the back of a pickup truck, keep in mind there are hotspots on the bed that can damage the tree’s foliage.

Care Tips

1. Once your tree gets home, be sure to place it in water as soon as possible. Most species can go for 6 to 8 hours after their trunk has been cut and still take up water. Make sure the surface doesn’t get bruised or dirty.

2. Use a stand that fits your tree. Trimming the sides of the trunk to make it fit harms the tree since those outer layers of wood are the most efficient in absorbing water. Make sure your stand provides about 1 quart of water per inch of the stem’s diameter.

3. Check the water daily. The water temperature used to fill the stand is not important and does not affect the tree’s health.

4. Use lights that emit low heat. This will help prevent the tree from drying out fast. Also, avoid placing the tree near heaters, fireplaces and heater vents to reduce drying.

5. Many people decide to recycle their trees after Christmas. Check with your local community on the recycling options offered in your area.

Safety Tips

While Christmas tree fires are not common, when they do occur they can be serious or even deadly. Below are tips to keeping your family safe on the holidays:

1. A well-hydrated tree is a safer tree since it provides natural protection against fire hazards. Be sure to water your tree every day.

2. Display your tree away from potential hazards, including fireplaces, candles and heating vents.

3. Avoid overloading your electrical circuits. Inspect your Christmas lights to make sure the wiring is not worn.

4. Always unplug your lights before you leave the house. If you have pets or children, make sure the tree can’t be toppled.

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