How To Pick A Christmas Tree — What To Look For!

Want to pick a Christmas tree that will radiate joy through the holiday season? Buy a local tree, choose a type that suits your needs (whether it is soft needles for young kids or sturdy branches for heavy ornaments), and make sure it’s fresh! We explain all the details and offer great suggestions—even one type that works for people with pine allergies! As you head out to the tree shop or your local farm, take our tips with you to ensure you find the best Christmas tree for you. Read on!

Buy Local Trees

It can be challenging to find a tree that will maintain its freshness until Christmas—especially if you are someone who likes to start decorating as soon as the turkey is cleared from the table! For the freshest and healthiest tree, head to a reputable tree farm to cut your own. If there are no farms nearby, find a tree lot that sells local ones.

Locally grown trees are almost always fresher than those harvested early, sometimes weeks or months in advance, and transported long distances. Don’t be shy when shopping for live trees. Ask the attendant when and where they were cut.

Familiarize Yourself With Local Types

Before heading to the farm or a lot, familiarize yourself with species grown in your area, and which ones fare well in your climate. While your choices may be limited, arming yourself with knowledge about each one will help you to choose one that best fits you and your family. Trees will vary on foliage fullness, branch stiffness, needle length, and climate preference. There is no right or wrong variety. It all depends on what is locally available, your tastes, and how you plan to decorate.

Here are a few types to consider and why:

  • Firs, Leyland Cyprus, and white pines have soft, flexible needles and may be best for young kids. (Leyland Cypress is also an excellent choice if you are allergic to pitch because it produces less scent and pitch.)
  • Spruces and Scotch pines are beautiful, but the sharper needles aren’t friendly to bare hands and feet.
Pick a Christmas tree type safe for young kids.
Pick a Christmas tree type with soft needles that are safe for young kids.

Measure Your Space Before You Pick A Christmas Tree

Trees always look smaller outside than they do in your living room! Before heading to the tree farm or lot, measure your space so you know what size tree you are looking for. Your tree should be at least half foot shorter than your ceiling to provide room for your topper (taking into account the height of the tree stand in overall height).

To ensure your tree will fit into your chosen space, also be sure to measure width. Most trees are trimmed at an 80% taper. So, a 10 ft tree will be roughly 8 ft wide at the bottom. Make sure the tree’s trunk will also fit into your stand. Avoid cutting away bark to shimmy it in, as this will prevent your tree from absorbing water properly.

How To Check Christmas Tree Freshness

Picking out a tree is similar to picking out a fresh piece of fruit. You need to touch it and smell it. Your Christmas tree should have a healthy, shiny appearance, and a pine scent. Excessive needle loss, discolored foliage, wrinkled bark, dry branches, and musty odor are all signs to select another. If all trees in the lot look dry, find another lot.

  • Shake or ‘bounce” the tree. All conifer trees shed a portion of their needles as they prepare for winter. Loss of interior needles is normal, however if exterior needles fall off, choose another.
  • Test the branches. The easiest way to test for freshness is to check the branches. The outer branches should be pliable. If they break easily, it’s too dry. Gently grab a branch and pull down and towards yourself. If you are left with a handful of needles, the tree is not fresh.
  • Check for a scent. Crush the needles in your hand to check for scent. If it doesn’t have a smell, don’t buy it. A fresh tree will give off a fresh, pine smell.

Last Steps

Once you have chosen the winner, you will need a fresh cut on the bottom (at least an inch off) in order for the veins to open and get water to the branches. The end of a cut tree will glaze over with new pitch, preventing the tree from taking up water. If you’re heading right home, you can have the lot do it for you. If it will be four or more hours, use a prune saw to do it yourself when you get home.

Get a fresh cut on your Christmas tree before you leave the tree lot!
Be sure to get a fresh cut on your tree before you leave the lot.

Don’t forget to check your tree for bugs. Be sure to snip off any branches with any egg sacks or cocoons. Giving your tree a hardy shake will also dislodge some tagalongs. Some tree lots have attendants known as “shakers” available for this purpose. It is also helpful to leave your tree outside in your yard or garage for a few days. Consider dusting it with diatomaceous earth or spraying with neem oil to kill off any bugs before bringing it inside. 

Once you have your tree secured in its stand, add lots of clean, cold water. Never let the level drop beyond the cut end (or pitch could form). Don’t be shocked if your tree sucks up a gallon of water in the first couple of days!

After cutting the netting, wait a couple of hours for the branches to settle before you start stringing the lights and hanging ornaments.

Place your tree in a space away from a heat sources, such as radiators and lowering the temperature in your home will slow the drying process and keep your tree fresher, longer.

Related Articles

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Budget-Friendly Ways To Celebrate The Holidays This Year

Join The Discussion!

How did this article help you pick a Christmas tree?

Is there something you always look for that’s not listed here?

Let us know in the comments below!

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Natalie LaVolpe

Natalie LaVolpe is a freelance writer and former special education teacher. She is dedicated to healthy living through body and mind. She currently resides on Long Island, New York, with her husband, children, and dog.

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