Christmas Tree Buying Guide

Christmas is one day or twelve, depending on how you count it, but many homeowners expect performance from Christmas trees that far exceeds that period. Bought as early as the Friday after Thanksgiving and kept until Epiphany in January, Christmas trees that last without losing their attractive color or needles are highly desirable. Since decorated trees became popular in the U.S. in the mid 1800’s, buying the tree has become a traditional holiday event for many. Here are some tips for choosing a tree that suits your purpose.

Is It Really “All About the Tree”?

The trip to buy a Christmas tree can simply be utilitarian or serve the larger purpose of a family tradition. Taking the family to a Christmas tree farm, taking a wagon ride down to the fields, and choosing and cutting down a tree together is a seasonal event that some families cherish. Another take on buying the Christmas tree is to purchase it from an organization that donates to charity. Still another is to visit your favorite home and garden center and pick up a new ornament along with the tree purchase. In some places, the most straightforward is the roadside stand, where Christmas trees lean against wooden frames set up for the purpose and decked with electric lights.

If you have very specific ideas about what you want in a tree or if hauling a tree around town isn’t efficient or possible for you, there’s a new approach: buying your tree on-line. Although in 2005, less than half a million trees were bought on-line, it continues to be a growing percentage of almost 33 million natural trees that are sold each holiday season.

Types of Christmas Trees
  • Artificial Christmas trees—available in realistic styles as well as colors, such as pink. Artificial Christmas trees are favored by those who want to “save a tree,” as well as those for whom a natural tree would be problematic for any reason. Available in a variety of sizes, including tabletop, and also in pre-lit versions or even pre-decorated, artificial trees are available in shapes and colors to imitate a variety of natural trees and fit a variety of settings. Artificial trees are also less of a fire hazard, and owners don’t have to worry about their tree drying out for use during an extended holiday season.

  • Ready to Plant—for those who want to add a tree rather than subtract one, buying a live tree and then planting it after the holidays may be a rewarding option. In this case, buying criteria will include the choice of a tree that will be suitable in the spot in which it will be planted. Consider the climate, the mature size, and the whether the tree is natively found in the area.

  • Natural Trees—here are some notes about some of the most popular Christmas tree species. Some species characteristically cost more than others, reflecting (at least in part) a longer growth period to attain their height.
  • Spruce
    • Colorado Blue Spruce: a short needle tree that has good needle retention for a spruce; holds its shape even with heavy ornaments.
    • Norway Spruce: a popular, traditional choice, but prone to dropping its needles; works best if you only intend to keep it for a short time.

  • Fir
    • Balsam Fir: a fragrant tree with short, soft needles of bright green
    • Douglas Fir: a long-lived tree with a pyramid shape with blue-green needles, and one of the most popular Christmas trees
    • Fraser Fir: a fragrant tree with needles that are deep green on top and silvery below, it is usually slender and a popular choice.
    • Grand Fir: a full tree with bicolor needles like the Fraser Fir and a strong fragrance
    • Noble Fir: known for having good needle hold and an attractive blue-green color, the noble fir is increasing in popularity as a Christmas tree

  • Pine
    • Eastern White Pine: a tree with little fragrance, it can be less prone to triggering allergies; it has good needle retention and long soft-green needles
    • Scotch Pine: the most popular cut tree, the Scotch Pine is a conical tree which, some say, is prone to dropping needles while others say it has good retention.

  • Cedar
    • Eastern Red Cedar: a pyramid-shaped tree with dark, shiny leaves, more often found at tree farms than Christmas tree stands

Tips for Purchasing
  • Choose a tree that is two feet (61 cm) shorter than the ceiling. This allows room for the stand and any treetop ornamentation you may wish to use.
  • Walk around the tree to make sure it is balanced and has a straight trunk.
  • Gently check the “hold” of the needles and the spring of the branches to ensure a fresh tree.

Tips for Set-Up
  • Store a cut tree outdoors as long as practical.
  • Make a fresh cut on the trunk and place the tree in water as soon as you can.
  • Set the tree in a cool place, not too close to radiators, and—if it’s a cut tree—keep it well watered.

An excellent source for more information is the National Christmas Tree Association web site.

Written by Mary Elizabeth

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