Photography: Lucas Allen1 of 7
Make It a Yearly Tradition
A day at a tree farm can yield the ideal evergreen and a new family tradition. This year, bring everyone together by picking out and cutting your own Christmas tree.
Photography: John Kernick2 of 7
Find a Tree Farm Near You
The National Christmas Tree Association makes it possible to search by ZIP code for farms offering a cut-your-own experience. Many state growing associations also have websites with listings.
Tip: The first trees to get picked over tend to be the ones near the parking lot, so the farther reaches of a farm might offer a better selection.
Photography: JAMES WORRELL3 of 7
Bring the Right Tools
Two things to remember to bring to the farm (or to ask whether they'll be provided) are a measuring tape and a handsaw. (Before you cut a tree, it pays to know it will fit in your living room!) As you browse, flag favorites with a bandanna so that it will be easier to comparison shop.
Photography: John Kernick4 of 7
Christmas Tree Glossary Part 1
From left to right:
Sturdy branches make this Pacific Northwest native a good choice if you have a lot of weighty ornaments. The tree has thick, silvery-green needles and limbs that stick straight out from the trunk, giving this fir a full, rounded appearance.
This large blue-green tree grows throughout the East, to Ohio and parts of the South. It's often sheared to have a more narrow silhouette, but its dense look can obscure ornaments. The springy branches aren't good with bulky garlands or lights. White pine has very little aroma but is reported to result in fewer allergic reactions than some of the more aromatic species. Needle retention is good to excellent.
Indigenous to the West, this sweet-scented tree has a tall, narrow silhouette. The loosely spaced, bluish needles are great for showcasing ornaments. It's also called a white fir.
'Carolina Sapphire' Cypress
This southern dweller is naturally broad and has a strong scent of lemon and mint. It's very similar to the 'Blue Ice' cypress (and has similar drawbacks).
The preferred Christmas tree in Europe, this evergreen is becoming increasingly popular in the United States. It's grown primarily in the Pacific Northwest and is prized for its fat pyramid shape and lush, dark-green foliage.
Photography: John Kernick5 of 7
Christmas Tree Glossary Part 2
From left to right:
Feathery, dark-green to gray foliage sets apart this Christmas tree, the most popular one in the Southeast. The silhouette varies from tree to tree and can be tall and slender or squat and rounded. The species absorbs an unusually large amount of water; its stand needs to be refilled several times per day.
This classic northeastern Christmas tree is a near twin of the Fraser fir. Its long-lasting needles are a deep green, and the tree has a pyramid shape that culminates in a slender top. Plus, it retains a pleasing fragrance.
One of the most common holiday trees in the Pacific Northwest, this species has firm branches and soft, blue-green or dark-green needles that emit a fragrance when crushed. Light in weight, it can be easier to transport than other trees.
'Blue Ice' Cypress
A cultivar of the Arizona cypress, this silvery-blue tree has a citrus aroma and a narrow steeple shape. It's found in the Gulf states, Georgia, and South Carolina. The branches support small lights, tinsel, and a few ornaments, but nothing heavy.
A pair of silvery stripes on the underside of each needle distinguishes this aromatic tree from the nearly identical balsam fir. Found in high-elevation regions of the South as well as in the Northeast and Great Lakes states, it has strong, upturned branches that are ideal for holding ornaments.
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Photography: John Kernick6 of 7
Boughs, Up Close
Clockwise, from top:
Balsam Fir, 'Carolina Sapphire' Cypress, Nordmann Fir, Noble Fir, Concolor Fir, 'Blue Ice' Cypress, Douglas Fir, White Pine, Fraser Fir, Leyland Cypress
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Leave a good stump on the tree you cut, and trim a half inch at home before putting it in water.