Seven Things Experts Say You Should Know Before Buying a Real Christmas Tree
For many people, picking out a live Christmas tree is something the holiday season wouldn't be complete without—its piney scent, the excitement of doing something fun as a family, and the chance to support local businesses are all pros to buying a real tannenbaum. However, it can also be a challenge. Finding a fresh one, dealing with shedding, and properly maintaining it at home might make the tradition seem daunting, but with a little planning, this can be a stress-free experience.
Check for freshness.
it's not always true that the most fragrant, greenest tree is the one that will last the longest, so it's important to understand how to check for freshness before choosing a live iteration. Sean Duffy of Stone Mill Gardens in Northern New Jersey recommends giving your preferred tree a feel before taking it home. Start by grabbing some of the branches and gently pulling them towards you. "If just a few needles come off, you've found a fresh tree," he explains. Duffy also suggests lifting the tree a few inches off the ground and firmly tapping it down. If you see a large number of needles fall off, consider looking for a different one. Beyond needle retention, you should also check its general storage conditions. According to John Krueger of Krueger's Christmas Trees, evergreens should be kept in a shaded, cool area. If trees are displayed on asphalt or concrete, Krueger says the heat from the sun can warm the ground and bake the conifers. He recommends checking that "the trees are stored vertically on dirt, ideally under shade or behind a building."
Know your tree types.
Different types of trees grow in different parts of the country, so the evergreen you buy really depends on where you live, Tim O'Connor, the executive director of the National Christmas Tree Association, explains. However, there are a few common varieties that can be found at almost every choose-and-cut farm or tree lot across the United States. Duffy believes the three most popular Christmas tree types are the Fraser, Balsam, and Douglas Fir. The first are known for their good needle retention and slightly upturned branches, while the second are defined by their pleasant, fragrant scent. Douglas Firs are one of the top Christmas tree species in the United States—the variety is characterized by its plump Hershey Kiss-like shape. In addition to the varieties Duffy notes, the Scotch Pine is another common option found stateside. These have an excellent survival rate, a bright green hue, and strong needle retention.
Buy yours at the opportune time.
Some families buy their tree when there are still Thanksgiving leftovers in the fridge, but others prefer to wait until the week of Christmas. According to Duffy, the timing of buying your evergreen really comes down to personal preference. "With that being said, the longer you can wait, the better off you will be," he explains. "A fresh tree will last longer outside in the cold than it will in a 70-degree house." It all comes down to how long you want to display your tree for—fresh ones typically last for at least a month, or up to six weeks, when kept inside and cared for properly. So, if you want to keep it up until after the New Year, you might want to consider waiting until December to look. However, O'Connor notes that waiting too long will limit your choices. "Most real trees are sold during Thanksgiving weekend and the following weekend," he says. "Waiting until after these two weekends will decrease your choices."
Consider where you'll display it.
Before you buy your evergreen, it's important to decide where you'll display the holiday decoration as its location will dictate the width and height of the tree you buy. For example, if you're putting it in a room with higher ceilings, you can consider purchasing a taller tree. It will also determine whether or not you can get away with buying a tree that has bare spots. If you're putting it against the wall or in a corner, one side can be a little skimpier than the rest, but if it's going in the center of your living room, you'll need something that looks nice from a 360-degree view. You should also be conscientious of any heat vents or nearby fireplaces when setting up your tree—displaying it near a heat source will dry it out quickly and lead to more shedding.
Trim the trunk.
The trunk of a real Christmas evergreen must be trimmed. According to Duffy, after the tree is cut, resin will begin to block some of the pores, and it won't be able to drink water adequately: "Re-cutting right before you put the tree in the stand will help it resume water intake." Typically, after you buy the tree, the farm or garden center where you purchased it will take an inch or two off the bottom for you. Once the fresh cut is made, the tannenbaum needs a drink as soon as possible. Wait too long, and the trunk will sap up again, notes Duffy. "This means it won't stay fresh or last inside your home," he explains.
Adequately water it.
Experts believe the most important aspect of caring for your tree once it's inside your home is adequately watering it. "It's impossible to over-emphasize how important it is to keep the tree watered," says Bert Cregg, tree physiology expert and professor at Michigan State University. "A fresh tree can suck up a lot of water—which is a good thing. It shows that the tree is fresh, but most people underestimate how much water the tree will need." According to Krueger, your tree will typically drink a lot of water the first couple days it's home; then, it usually slows down. He says to ensure the stand always has water, and to check it in the morning and before bed at a minimum. "In terms of volume, a stand probably holds three gallons, and a tree might drink three gallons that first day," he says. Ultimately, watering your conifer regularly is the best way to prevent it from drying out.
Preventative care is key.
Taking the necessary steps to care for your tree—trimming the trunk, watering it, keeping it away from heat sources—is the best way to prevent it from fading before the season ends. However, if your tree does start to dry out ahead of Christmas, there are a few last-ditch efforts you can try, according to the experts. A sapped-over trunk is typically to blame for an early decline, notes Duffy, so if it's not already decorated, you can try taking it out of the stand and giving it a fresh cut. If that's no longer an option, he recommends drilling holes into the side of the trunk and seeing if it will take water that way. Krueger says you can also try filling a spray bottle with water and misting the tree, as its branches will likely absorb moisture that way. If you try this, make sure you turn off any lights or sources of electricity connected to the tree.
If neither of these methods work, Duffy urges people to consider taking down their Christmas evergreens, stating that "a dry tree is a safety risk."