How to Pick, Cut, and Care For the Perfect Christmas Tree

  1. ‘Tis the season to go all Clark Griswold, pack up the family, and hit up your local tree farm. When you’re picking out that most sacred of holiday accoutrements, preference is always key. However, there are some things to keep in mind while doing so. Here are a few tips for beginners or newly reformed artificial tree (cheaters) owners.

Do Your Homework
Unless you’re in an area of the country where they do not typically flourish (stop reading now), you’re likely to find several tree farms within driving range. However, all farms are not created equal, and all don’t offer the same species. If you’re a choosy home decorator, you should first decide exactly which species you think will look the best. Traditional choices are firs, spruces, pines and most of the subspecies. They all have slightly different characteristics in terms of color, shape, and fullness. Once you’ve landed on a specific species, make sure you check to see if the farm you’ve chosen has them available. Also, prices will vary from species to species and farm to farm. Many times, spruces will cost a bit more than other conifers, and while some farms charge a flat rate for each tree, some charge by the foot. Depending on your region and farm/species choice, an average price for an average-sized (6-8ft) tree should cost you anywhere from $30-$75.

Be Reasonable, Griswold
Because of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, we’re all familiar with the perils of choosing an over-sized tree. Before heading out, make sure to measure out the available space in your home where you intend to place the tree. Obviously, as with personal preference, each family’s space capacity will vary. Also, be sure to know the height from floor to ceiling in the room that your tree will call home and be sure to leave enough room at the top for your tree-topper. It’s a good idea to take a tape measure with you to the tree farm so that you can adequately judge the height of the tree instead of “eyeballing it,” which will inevitably lead to disaster because…well, that’s the way life works.

Come equipped
Many farms will provide you with most of the tools you need to cut down your tree, but there are a few other things that will be handy to take along. Just to be safe, it’s always smart to bring your own hacksaw although most farms will supply you with one. They’ll also most likely supply you with twine so that you can secure the tree to your vehicle for the ride home (more on that later), but again, if you want to be safe, go ahead and bring your own. As aforementioned, having a tape measure handy is a must, so that you can accurately judge the height of your tree so as not to succumb to Griswold-itis. If the farm or property you are visiting is unusually large or if you’re the indecisive type, another great thing to bring along is flagging tape. When you see a tree you like but aren’t sure it’s “the one,” you can flag it and come back to it later. The tape also comes in handy if you lose your way amongst all the trees and need to get back to the car. Lastly, if the tree is going to be secured to the top of your car or in the bed of your truck, it is vital for the health of the tree that you bring some sort of plastic sheeting or a tarp to cover the tree for the drive home, as the cold wind blowing through the tree on your return journey can cause the tree to dry out or it may lose many of its needles. No one wants a “Charlie Brown” tree.

Make sure it’s worthy
Once you think you’ve found the perfect tree for your family, you’ll want to check on the health of the tree. This can be done by checking a few obvious indicators. First, take a big whiff of the tree itself. A healthy conifer will have that familiar piney scent, and the more obvious the smell, the better. Next, take a long, 360 degree look at the tree itself to check for fullness or the appearance of patches of brown or browning needles or branches and to see if there are any obvious, gaping holes in the body of the branches. Keep in mind that the inner needles of conifers will turn brown and shed each year, so if you see some brown on the inside layers of the tree branches, don’t fret. Lastly, gently tug on one of the branches to see if any needles fall off easily. If it sheds its needles profusely with a gentle tug, the tree is most likely not healthy, and therefore unlikely to retain its color once you get it home. The angle of your initial cut doesn’t have much bearing on the sustainability of your tree (again, more on that in a moment), so just a nice, straight, clean cut will work just fine.

Post-Cut and In-Home Care
Once you’ve got your tree home, you’ll want to make a secondary cut. This is because once you made the initial cut, the tree naturally coated the cut area with a layer of sap to prevent massive water loss. Get a bucket of water ready and make another cut about ½ inch above the initial cut and immediately stand the tree in the bucket of water. This allows the tree to soak up more water, hence helping it maintain its color and freshness for a much longer period of time. The angle of the secondary cut doesn’t really matter either, unless the initial cut was a little uneven, which makes the tree sit at an angle once it is in the actual stand. Leave the tree outside and standing in the water until you are ready to decorate it. Once you’ve finally got your yuletide symbol decorated, there is still a bit of maintenance to attend to so that you can assure the tree’s freshness until you take it down after the holiday (or if you’re like some folks…sometime in March). To do so, you’ll need to keep it properly hydrated. A newly-cut tree can absorb upwards of a gallon of water in the first day or so, and usually around a few pints each day afterward. Remember, if you let it go dry, a new layer of sap will accumulate on the bottom of the tree, causing it to dry out much faster.