Your Guide to Picking the Perfect X-Mas Tree

There's more to choosing the perfect tree than just looking at it from every angle. Follow these tips, and you'll be enjoying your tannenbaum through the New Year.

Measure Your Space

Christmas Tree Size

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!

Check for Freshness

Fresh Christmas Tree

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.

Related—How To: Make Your X-Mas Tree Last All Season

Give It a Shake

Christmas Tree Needles

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

Ugly Christmas Tree

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

Hanging Christmas Ornaments

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.

Related: 10 Ways to Decorate Your X-Mas Tree for Under $10

Option 1: The Living Tree

Blue Spruce

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

Douglas Fir

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

Balsam Fir

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

Fraser Fir

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

Scots Pine

The Scots 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 Scots 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

Christmas Tree 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).

Related: 7 Reasons Not to Chuck Your Tree After X-Mas

The Stand Matters

Christmas Tree Stand

The biggest mistake people make is getting a cheap tree stand that doesn’t hold enough water. Stands that require a hole to be drilled in the base of the trunk provide stability without affecting 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.

Related: Bob Vila's Top 10 Christmas Tree Stands

Go Small, Go Live

Small Christmas Trees

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

Christmas Tree Price

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!

Related: 10 Things You Never Knew Are Negotiable

Trimming the Tree

Trimming the Tree

Once you find the perfect evergreen for your home, it’s time to trim the tree! Avoid decorating disasters with these smart—and cheap—buys that will make your tree look great. And if you’re still looking to fill the tree with more ornaments, try your hand at these easy and fun DIY ideas.

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