A treasured tradition
From the smell of the evergreens to the nip of the crisp winter air, there’s nothing like picking out and cutting down the perfect Christmas tree to kick off your holiday season. Learn how to find and take home the best tree on the farm (or in the forest) with these 10 useful tips.
Find out if you need a permit.
If you plan on being adventurous and heading into the woods to cut down your Christmas tree, check to see if you need a permit before you break out your chain saw. Permits are available through your local Forest Service office—but hurry, because some offices do sell out of permits.
Don’t cut it too early.
Some people like decking out the home for the holidays right after they've cleared the Thanksgiving dishes, or maybe even right after that first pumpkin spice latte of the season. But if you’re putting up a real tree, it’s best to wait. Even trees that are watered regularly get dried out within three weeks of cutting, so try to resist the urge to decorate the tree too early
Measure your space before you cut.
Unlike the Christmas trees at the local lots, trees on a farm or in the forest don't necessarily come in predictable six- or eight-foot sizes. To avoid disappointment, measure the distance from floor to ceiling where you plan to place your tree to make sure you don't cut down a tree that's too big for your house. While you're at it, measure the space in your car to make sure you'll be able to accommodate the tree, and don't forget to bring twine, bungees, scissors, and anything else you might need to secure the tree in (or on) your car.
Wear the right gear.
Though cutting down your Christmas tree is a fun holiday excursion, you’ll be handling blades or saws, so it’s important to wear appropriate safety attire. Put on a pair of sturdy boots, pack a pair of heavy work gloves, and avoid loose clothing to keep yourself safe.
Use the correct tools.
Depending on where you’re cutting down your tree, there may be restrictions on the tools you can use. Although a chain saw is the quickest and easiest way to fell a tree, many tree farms and national forests don’t allow their use, so be prepared with a handsaw or axe, just in case.
Test for freshness.
You may be looking for the perfect Christmas tree, a tree that's just the right shape and size, but the most important thing to look for is freshness. To find out if a tree is fresh, tug lightly on the needles: If they stay put, then your tree should stay green and supple well until Christmas.
Take a walk before you decide.
Even if you immediately spot “the one,” it’s best to do a full walk-through before you commit to a particular tree. Christmas tree farms are often arranged by size or type of tree, so taking a look at everything else that's available will help you avoid buyer’s remorse on the way out to the car.
Cut the tree low to the ground.
Try to cut your Christmas tree as low to the ground as you possibly can. This will not only make it a taller tree, but it will also allow another tree to resprout and spread Christmas cheer to future tree-hunters.
Have someone hold it steady.
Have a partner hold your tree steady to prevent it from falling over before you’ve sawed all the way through the trunk. Also, resist the temptation to push the tree over—not only is this unsafe, but it will also prevent regrowth.
Shake it off.
Your freshly cut natural Christmas tree will probably be rife with sap, freeloading bugs, and spiderwebs, so give it a good shake before you pack it in the car to keep any creepy-crawlies out of your living room. Some tree farms even have a mechanical shaker that will get the job done, for a fee.
Related: 12 Christmas Tree Decorating Fails
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