How to choose a real Christmas tree

I love Christmas.  My favorite part is decorating a real tree, bringing all that woodsy freshness and fragrance into my home.  If you like real trees too, listen up for some shopping tips.  

Christmas tree with decorations

First, measure.  If you’ve ever had to lop off the top to make it fit you know that eyes can deceive.  So measure the space and get a tree that fits both the height and width.  Yes, I’ve had to rearrange the furniture. 

Next, visit a local tree farm or lot.  Bundling up and strolling through a Christmas tree farm is old-fashioned fun.  Cutting your own guarantees it’s fresh.  Plus it’s a good excuse for hot cocoa.   

But before you head out to a tree farm, toss some sturdy rope and a blanket or tarp in your car to secure and protect your tree and car.  Most farms have maps, saws and helpful folks.  

Local tree lots are a fine option, too.  Most benefit a local business or nonprofit group so you’re doing good while having a good time.  Raise your hand if you get overwhelmed looking at all those trees. 

Should you get a spruce, fir, pine or cedar? It’s a tough choice, but here are some fast facts to help you.  

The longest-lasting trees are Colorado and Norway spruce and Frasier fir.  Concolor fir also last well and have a handsome blue tinge as do some Colorado spruce.

Balsam fir is the most fragrant.  Pines have long, soft needles. And local tradition points to our native Eastern redcedar, often harvested on farms in days gone by. 

Eastern red cedar with berries
Eastern redcedar
Credit: Mira Talabac

Once you’ve settled on a type of tree, get up close and personal. Stroke a branch from trunk to tip.  Few needles should fall.  Gently bend a few needles.  They should bend, not break.  

If you’re buying a pre-cut tree, give it the gentle drop test.  Lift the tree off the ground a few inches and let it hit the ground softly.  Only a few needles should fall.  

Tree farms and lots will offer to wrap your tree in netting.  Spring for the extra few bucks if there is a charge.  It’s good protection.   If you have a short trip home, ask for a fresh cut on the trunk of a pre-cut tree to help it take up water.  Or cut a half-inch off the base when you get home.  

Your tree will travel best in the cargo area of your car if it’s roomy enough. Put down a tarp or blanket to catch any falling needles. If your tree is traveling in the back of a truck, wrap it and secure it with rope to minimize shifting and damage.  The quaint image of a Christmas tree atop a car is all well and good, but trees should only travel on car roofs with roof racks to avoid damage.

Load your wrapped tree with the base forward and secure it with sturdy rope to avoid the unpleasant “opening umbrella effect” en route.  Yes, trees can fly.

As soon as you get home, plunge the tree into a bucket or stand that holds at least a gallon of water.  Trees are heavy drinkers, so check and top off the water daily.  Check twice the first day.

The right Christmas tree tended well can give you a month or more of enjoyment. Make yours the centerpiece of your family’s holiday celebrations. 

By Annette Cormany, Principal Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator, Washington County, University of Maryland Extension. This article was previously published by Herald-Mail Media. Read more by Annette.

This article was previously published by Herald-Mail Media.

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