Everything You Need to Know About Christmas Trees

There’s nothing that says “holidays” like a Christmas tree. If you haven’t gotten yours yet, here are some quick tips to buy it right. If you have, here are some tips to keep it fresh through New Year’s.

Real Christmas trees

When I was a boy growing up outside of Atlanta, Georgia, for several years in a row my father bought live Christmas trees, then planted them in the yard after the holiday. Both my youth and my father are now gone, but those trees remain to this day. If you’ve got the room in your yard and a green thumb, getting a live tree and planting it on New Year’s Day is a great way to start the year and preserve Christmases past. A local nursery can help you find the right tree and offer advice on keeping it healthy through the holidays and planting it in your yard afterward.

If that sounds a little ambitious, but you still like the idea of a real tree, the second best idea is to cut your own tree at a Christmas tree farm. If you’re lucky enough to live near one, pile the family into the car and head out: Here’s a nationwide directory of tree farms.

If you’re buying from a tree lot, the price, availability, and tree types will depend on where you live, but you’ll often find the best deals at warehouse stories like Home Depot and Lowe’s. That being said, don’t forget that small merchants deserve to survive too. If you like the idea of seeing Christmas tree lots springing up this time of year, remember that they won’t if everyone buys their tree from Home Depot. See if the guy on the corner will match or come close to the warehouse store price. As with most things in life – especially things that are perishable – the price is negotiable.

If you’re bringing your tree home on the top of your car, bring some cardboard along to protect your ride.

You can also buy a tree online: more convenient, but probably more costly as well. Here are six sites that sell trees …

  1. Tannenbaum’s
  2. Touch of the Mountain
  3. ChristmasTreesNow.com
  4. Omni Farm
  5. Silver Mountain Christmas Trees
  6. Paine’s Christmas Trees

Buying a cut Christmas tree

  1. Choose the place you’re putting the tree and take some measurements: Height is obvious, but don’t forget the width of the doors you’ll be going through or the area of the room you’ll be putting your tree in. You’ll want to keep your tree as far away as possible from heat sources like vents, fireplaces, or radiators.
  2. The sooner you buy one, the better: Ask the dealer when their trees were cut: the fresher the better. Many people assume that getting a tree early is a bad idea, because it might wither and start shedding needles before New Year’s. While this seems logical, a cut Christmas tree is only going to last so long – it doesn’t care whether it’s sitting in a lot down the street or in your living room. In other words, once it’s cut, it’s cut, so put it in your home as soon as possible. Buying early also means a better selection.
  3. Do your own freshness test: As you saw in the video above, there are several things you can do to test the freshness of a Christmas tree: First, grab a branch by the needles and pull it – the needles should stay on. Next, bend a branch and see if it’s supple: Ideally, it should bend without snapping. Finally, pick up the tree and drop it to see how many needles shake loose: the fewer the better.
  4. Inspect the base: Ever brought home that perfect tree, only to find that the base isn’t straight and the tree leans to one side? Me too. That’s why now I make sure the last foot of the trunk is totally straight.
  5. Look at it again before you bring it inside: Make sure there’s no insects or other unpleasantness hiding in the branches. Pick it up and drop it again.

Making your tree last

Properly cared for, your cut Christmas tree should last well over a month. Here’s what to do …

  1. When you buy your tree from the lot, they’ll cut an inch or so off the bottom – get the tree into water as soon as possible.
  2. When it comes to making a Christmas tree last, water isn’t the main thing: It’s the only thing. Use a stand that holds as much water as possible, then keep it filled at all times. If the bottom of the trunk is exposed to air, resin will form over it and it will no longer be able to absorb water: game over. Check the water supply every day without fail. To make your life easier, get a funnel, connect it to a short length of tubing that empties into the stand, and then hide it all in the branches when you’re not using it.
  3. You don’t need distilled or other specialty water, nor do you need chemical preservatives. Tap water is fine – just make sure the supply is sufficient.
  4. Remember that heat is not your friend – if your Christmas lights generate heat, use them sparingly and always turn them off at night. Miniature lights produce less heat than bigger ones.

Artificial Christmas trees

In my opinion, an artificial Christmas tree has all the holiday charm of a gift card. But that’s me. If you like the ease, simplicity, a lower long-term cost, and infinite variety of artificial trees, go for it.

If you want to read way too much about selecting an artificial Christmas tree, Home Depot has you covered. But here’s the down and dirty:

  1. Have a budget: While overall cost is obviously important, remember that buying a good-quality tree means spreading that cost over many years. Buying a cheap tree that you don’t like might ultimately mean wasted money when you throw it away and start over.
  2. As with a live tree, decide where you’re going to put your tree and take some measurements. Be sure and leave a foot or so at the top if you’re going to add your own star or other topper.
  3. The more branches, the better. With a high-quality tree, you’ll have trouble seeing the trunk.
  4. Look at the stand: Metal is better than plastic. And it should have rubber feet to keep from scratching the floor.
  5. How big is the box? You’re going to be storing it – make sure you have room.
  6. If possible, find out how difficult it is to set up and take down. Hinged branches are better than those that you have to attach individually to the trunk. Pre-lit is much easier than one you have to light yourself.
  7. Check out the box and see what the tree is made from. PVC plastic is the highest quality.
  8. To get the best deal, buy it after Christmas. Get a real tree this year, buy your artificial tree at an after-Christmas sale for half price.

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