Tips for Picking the Perfect Christmas Tree

There is nothing quite like the smell of a real Christmas tree. It fills your home and heart with Christmas cheer and evokes warm memories of Christmas’ past.  But nothing puts a damper on holiday happiness like a tree that doesn’t make it to the 25th. Whether it loses all its needles or has to be cut at the top for being too tall, it can be a real buzz kill. To ensure that you have the best tree on the block, we’ve gathered some tips and tricks to help you find a tree that looks great into the new year.

Do Your Homework

Before you head out to the tree farm or lot, make sure to do your homework. Think about what is important for you in a Christmas tree. Does it need to smell like Christmas? Do you want strong needles to hold up heavier ornaments or softer needles that won’t poke the hands of small children? What kind of coloring do you like? Knowing the answer to these questions can help prevent spending too much time traipsing around in the cold.

Unsure of what types of trees there are? The Spruce has put together a comprehensive guide to Christmas tree types.

Measure!

I can’t say it enough, make sure to measure the space you want to put the tree in, and know your limitations. Bigger is not always better. It is a little more complicated than “I have an 8 ft space, I can get an 8 ft tree.” You need to account for the tree topper, the base, and any trunk trimming.  Sounds complicated but it is a simple formula.

Item Example
Height= Room Height 8 ft
Minus Tree Toppers Ornaments 1 ft
Minus Height added by the tree stand 0.5 ft
Minus Height of any base or table that you put under the tree 0
Plus Bottom of tree removed 0.5
=
Equals Height of tree to buy at the farm 7 ft

Where to Go

The fresher the tree, the longer it will last. Nobody wants to wake up Christmas morning to a bed of pine needles covering their gifts.

The best way to know for sure your tree is fresh is to go to a tree farm and be there when it is cut. For some people that just isn’t realistic. A second-best option is to try and source the tree as locally as possible. The less distance traveled, the fresher the tree, and the longer the life of the tree.

If you decide to go the Clark Griswold route and venture into a forest to cut down your tree, please be aware of the rules for cutting down trees in your area. Always ask permission to go onto property that isn’t your own. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the tree is, it isn’t worth a massive fine or a night behind bars.

Determining Freshness

Even on the farm, some trees may be in better shape than others. There are a few things you can do to determine how fresh a tree is. If you are able, gently shake the tree to see if needles fall. It is natural for a few to make their way to the ground, but half the tree shouldn’t land at your feet.

If you are at a tree lot, you might be able to pick the tree up. If you can, pick the tree up and tap the bottom of the trunk against the ground to see how many needles fall.

If neither of these is an option, you can always crush a few of the needles for scent. If the smell isn’t very strong, the needles are probably dead, and the tree isn’t far behind.

What to Look For

There are a few key things to look for in a good Christmas tree. First off, you’ll want to look at the shape of the tree. Determine if you like the look of it. Some prefer big round trees while others like the classic shape.

If the shape looks good to you then check the branches for holes. You don’t want to have a bunch of empty spots on your tree. When you are doing this pay special attention to the branches at the bottom of the tree. They might look like they can be trimmed to fit it into the base, but once you take a closer look you see that they curve up higher than you thought and cutting them would make the tree look bad.

Something else you want to be on the lookout for is the trunk. Just like other plants, trees don’t always grow perfectly straight. Some have trunks that bend and twist, which is fine on a hillside, but not great once you put it in a tree stand. Try to find a tree with a nice straight trunk.

Installation

Once you have found the perfect tree and you have it home, there are a few tips to make the installation go a little smoother. Before you take the tree inside, you’re going to want to cut about ½ inch of the trunk, for the same reason you cut the ends off of a fresh bouquet of flowers. The fresh cut encourages the tree to drink water, elongating the lifespan.

Laying down a tarp or even an old sheet, placing the tree on the tarp, and then moving it that way, helps to prevent having needles all over your house.

Once you have the tree in the stand and in a position that you like, give it a few hours to rest. The branches will need a few hours to settle and open up before you start trimming. If you trim before the limbs settle, you might end up with a shape you aren’t happy with.

Maintenance

Water, water, water. Did I mention that you need to make sure your tree has enough water? A cut tree will absorb a surprising amount of water, especially in the first couple of days. So be sure to check it regularly. I find it helpful to use a gallon milk jug for pouring water into the stand. It helps to prevent spilling and is easy to hold.

How to Dispose

Certainly, this is one of the saddest parts of the holiday season, but all tress have to come down, especially real ones. Start by looking up the rules in your area; some neighborhoods have a designated tree removal day, where the garbage men will haul away the tree at no extra cost.

If that is not an option you can chop up the tree to use for firewood, put into the chipper for mulch, or turned into compost.

Artificial Christmas trees can work well for some homes, but there is nothing quite like the experience of getting the family together to go pick out the perfect tree. It isn’t just a tree, it’s tradition. To keep the tradition, and the tree, at its best you simply need to follow our tips on selection, maintenance, and disposal. Happy hunting!

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