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Christmas Checklist: Choosing and Caring for a Real Tree

Opting for a live tree this season? Here's what you need to know.

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Pick a Healthy Tree That’s Suited to Your Space

  • Shop locally: Log on to the website of the National Christmas Tree Association to find a tree farm near you.
  • Check the tree's condition: Run the branch through your hand to make sure the needles don’t come off easily. Make sure the outer branches bend well; if they break easily, the tree is too dry.
  • Walk to the further reaches of the farm to find the best tree: The first trees to get picked over are the ones near the parking lot.
  • Keep track: As you browse, flag your favorites with a bandanna.
  • Bring a measuring tape: First, measure the height and width of the space that your tree will call home. Then measure the tree you have your heart set on to make sure it's a comfortable fit, not a tight squeeze. 
  • Bring a saw: If you’re cutting your own tree, leave a substantial stump.

Choose the Right Variety

  • Have a lot of ornaments? A Fraser fir has short, durable needles and open, well-spaced branches that are great for dangling ornaments. Another good pick: a Scotch pine, which has dense, tightly spaced branches.
  • Making a late-season purchase? Get a Douglas fir, with its sweet smell and full, blue-green foliage -- but bear in mind that the needles won’t last as long.
  • Want a classic beauty? Go for the noble fir, whose upturned branches are strong and can be made into wreaths and garlands.
  • Want a low-maintenance tree? Try the Leyland cypress, whose delicate, forest-green to bluish-green branches have very little scent and don’t produce sap.
  • Want a fragrant tree? Try the concolor fir, whose loosely spaced, bluish needles smell sweet.

Care for Your Tree

  • Make sure your tree is netted for safe transport home: The farm should help you with this.
  • Trim your tree trunk: Using a saw, trim half an inch off the trunk before placing it in water in a reservoir stand.
  • Keep it hydrated: The National Christmas Tree Association advises one quart of water per inch of stem diameter, as a general guideline. Fresh trees may require up to a gallon of water per day.
  • Protect the tree from heat: Not only can heat dry out your tree, but it can be a fire hazard. Keep your tree away from heat sources and opt for lights that produce low heat -- and turn off the lights when you go to bed.
  • Discard responsibly: Remember to recycle your tree -- and don’t wait too long, as an overly dry tree can be a hazard.
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