Before you visit the tree farm or local Christmas tree lot, be sure to measure the room in which you plan to put your tree. Of course, you should measure the height of your ceiling, and add an extra 12 to 18 inches for the tree stand at the bottom and a star or angel on top. But don’t forget to measure the width of the space. If your space is limited and you need to squeeze a tree into a corner, choose a narrower tree variety. Be aware that outside at the tree farm, a tree might not look as big as it truly is. Stick to your measurements!
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- How To: Choose the Best Christmas Tree (and Keep It Fresh)
How To: Choose the Best Christmas Tree (and Keep It Fresh)
Measure Your Space
Check for Freshness
Many pre-cut trees have been sitting on a truck for a week or more before they make it to your local Christmas tree vendor. When a tree has been cut for too long, it dries out and will lose its needles more quickly. So, check for freshness when choosing a tree. Run your hand across a branch. If the needles come off easily, the tree may not last until Christmas. Also, bend a branch and see if it snaps back. If it doesn’t, the tree may already be fading.
Give It a Shake
Before you commit to a tree, give it a really good shake or bang the trunk onto the ground several times. If needles cascade off, you know it’s too dry. If your tree has already passed muster and you're about to bring it indoors, give it another shake to shed any loose needles before you bring it into your house.
Check for Bare Spots
If you're considering taking home a tree that's already wrapped in netting or twine, take some time to have the attendant remove the wrappings so you can see the tree with all the branches hanging free. You may find that your favorite tree is lopsided, or has a bare spot on one side. These faults might not be grounds for disqualifying the tree outright. Consider the space where you’ll put your tree. If you can place the bad side of a tree against the wall or facing the corner, you might want to take it home. If the tree doesn't look perfect after the attendant has untied it consider: It can tree branches a day or two to settle back into place after being unwrapped.
Consider Different Species
Some species of Christmas trees have sturdier branches than others. If you have a lot of heavy ornaments, you’ll want a tree with more robust branches, like a Frasier fir or Colorado blue spruce. If your ornaments are lighter, you can go with a variety that has softer needles, and a bit more flexible branches, like a balsam fir.
Option 1: The Living Tree
The Colorado blue spruce is so named for the bluish color of its needles. It is often sold as a living tree, which can be planted outside after the holidays. Once the tree's been cut, however, the needles fall off relatively quickly. Still, the blue spruce has a nice pyramid shape with strong branches that can hold heavy ornaments.
Option 2: The Fragrant Tree
The Douglas fir is one of the most common Christmas tree types sold in the United States, especially out West. It has soft, shiny needles that grow on all sides of its branches. The tree grows very symmetrically and is particularly full. But if the branches have been sheared, it can become too full (and difficult to decorate). For the sweet aroma alone, this evergreen is worth considering.
Option 3: The Symmetrical Tree
The balsam fir has two-toned needles that are dark green on top, silver underneath. Its symmetrical shape and evergreen smell make it a wonderful Christmas tree. Be aware, however, that balsam fir trees have flexible branches—not the best choice for heavier ornaments. But the needles will last for a long time, so if you like to put your tree up the day after Thanksgiving, this could be your best best.
Option 4: The Sturdy Tree
The Fraser fir is famed for its scent. It also has a delightful shape and holds its needles well, even after cutting—assuming it’s well watered. The needles are a silvery-green color, about one inch long, and softer than those of many other evergreens. Its sturdy branches are able to hold heavier ornaments.
Option 5: The Long-Lasting Tree
The Scotch pine is known for holding its needles, even after becoming dry. Those needles are sharp, though, so beware while decorating! If the tree has been sheared for shaping, the branches may be very close together, making it even more difficult to decorate. The dark green needles of the Scotch pine are from one to three inches in length, and its branches are sturdy and suitable for ornaments of all weights and sizes.
Pay Attention to the Trunk
Once you've found the perfect tree, be sure to make a fresh cut in the trunk and get it into water as soon as possible. If you don’t plan on putting it up right away, store your tree in a cool place—like the garage—in a bucket of water. Once brought indoors, the tree should be placed away from heat sources and preferably away from the sun (or just keep the blinds drawn).
The Stand Matters
The biggest mistake people make is getting a cheap tree stand that doesn’t hold enough water. Stands that require that a hole be drilled in the base of the trunk are good for providing stability, but they don’t affect the water intake. Keep replenishing the stand's basin with fresh water daily and, if possible, mix in floral preservative, which you can pick up at the florist or at the Christmas tree lot.
Go Small, Go Live
Trees don't have to overwhelm the room to provide holiday cheer—or even make a statement. Tabletop trees have become increasingly popular for people who live in cramped quarters or wish to bring some seasonal green to other rooms of the house. To be truly "green," consider a live tree to enjoy indoors for the holiday and plant outdoors come spring.
Everything is Negotiable
Many local tree farms and city tree lots are independently owned and operated and have the latitude to negotiate on price—if they want. If you want to save a little this season, you can try to haggle for a discount. The closer it gets to Christmas Day, the better deal you’ll get!