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Choosing a Live Christmas Tree

Christmas Tree

Picking out the family tree is a holiday custom in many homes. Whatever type of tree (or trees) you shop for, make it a fun and uncomplicated process.

Live or Artificial?

Live Christmas trees are either freshly cut or balled and burlapped (B&B) with the roots intact. Real trees have the distinctive, pleasant evergreen smell and feel. Live trees require some preparation and care, but traditionalists feel this is a valuable part of the holiday tradition. 

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, hence the arrival of the artificial Christmas tree.   The early awkward efforts have evolved into some amazingly realistic versions. Easy to set up and store, artificial trees don't shed needles and are hypoallergenic. After they're set up and decorated, the only work left is stacking presents underneath.

Before you go shopping for a real or artificial tree, measure the area where the tree will be displayed. Pay special attention to the ceiling height, remembering to add the size of the tree stand into your calculation.

Christmas Tree Varieties

Most popular Christmas trees come from the pine or fir species. Choosing the right type depends on personal taste and regional availability.

Pine Trees — Pine trees have long, slender needles 1 inch to 6 inches long attached in clusters to branches. These trees vary in shades of yellow-green and blue-green. Most types have strong branches and retain their needles well. Scotch pine is one of the best Christmas pines.

Fir Trees — Fir trees have flat and waxy needles up to 1 1/2 inches long attached directly to branches in long, dense rows. Color varies from yellow-green to dark green, and some species have touches of reddish-brown on the buds. Firs have a very noticeable fragrance. Firs also have more flexible branches than pines or spruces and will shed some needles. The best varieties are Grand, Fraser, Noble, Balsam and Douglas.

Finding the Perfect Christmas Tree

Whether cut or live, remember the following to make sure your tree purchase is a wise one:

  • Be certain your vehicle can safely transport the tree you purchase to your home. Bring rope or bungee cords to secure the load adequately. Take care to protect your vehicle because tree branches and resin can mar the finish.
  • Look for a full, symmetrical shape. You can sacrifice a bit of perfection if the tree will be displayed in a corner. Be wary of branches near the ground that may have to be removed to fit into a tree stand.

Fresh-Cut Christmas Trees

Fresh-cut trees are by far the most popular type of Christmas tree. Make sure you get the best tree for your home.

  • Test the tree by giving it a slight shake. A few falling brown needles are not uncommon, but falling green needles mean the tree is dry.
  • Feel the tree. The needles should be flexible but snap when bent sharply. Trees with stiff needles that are losing their color should be avoided. Also avoid a tree with needles that pull off very easily.
  • When you get the tree home, cut a 1/2-inch-thick disk from the base. (Lowe's will make the cut for you.) This slice is critical; when trees are cut in the field, they produce a layer of sap that seals the cut. The layer prevents water from rising up the trunk. The cute opens the vascular system for water intake.
  • Once the holiday season has passed, dispose of the Christmas tree in a safe and appropriate manner. Your city probably has guidelines for disposal.
Fresh-cut trees need a constant supply of water (more than a quart a day for most species) to prevent the tree from drying out. A dry tree is unsightly and a fire hazard.

Live Christmas Trees

As an alternative to a cut tree, you may choose to buy a living tree. These trees are dug with the root ball intact, then wrapped in burlap for shipment and planting. A B&B tree can be replanted after the holiday season.

If a living tree appeals to you, be sure to follow all instructions offered by the grower to care for your tree properly. A living tree has a better chance of survival if it's inside for only about seven days. Here are some basic care tips for a living Christmas tree:

  • Make sure you'll have room to plant the tree after the holidays.
  • Choose a healthy tree that will grow in your area.
  • A B&B tree is heavy. Get someone to help you carry one.
  • Always carry the tree by the root ball, not the trunk, to avoid damaging the roots.
  • Store the tree in an unheated garage or basement for a couple of days before you bring it in to decorate. The transition from outdoors to inside a home (where it's usually hot and dry) and back outdoors to a planting site is stressful to a tree.
  • When the tree is brought indoors, place it in a cooler area of the house if possible. Lower the temperature, or shut off the heat source.
  • Keep the root ball moist. To prevent soiling the area, keep the root ball in a tub or wrapped in plastic.
  • Plant the tree as soon as possible. If the ground is too hard to work, put the tree in a protected area. Keep the root ball covered with mulch until the tree can be planted.
  • Water the tree throughout the winter.

Holiday Decorations