Decking the tree with all of the trimmings is one of the best family traditions. We’ve got some tips to help you nab the best real tree for your holiday celebration.

Shopping for your Christmas tree can be a fun, family event, especially if you know what to look for in a living or fresh-cut tree. In the past few years, artificial trees became more popular, partly for convenience and partly out of concerns for waste of fresh-cut trees from the forest. But most people now realize that if you buy from a tree farm and either plant your living tree or recycle your cut one, you’re enjoying a more environmentally friendly tree than the petroleum-based artificial models made overseas. So take our tips for nabbing the best Christmas tree and head out to your nearest lot or farm.

Keep it real

That real tree also emits oxygen in your home, just like your houseplants. And tree farms follow renewable practices. If you want the closest experience to heading to the woods with a permit and chainsaw to cut down your own tree, search the National Christmas Tree Association’s database for a tree farm near you. You’re sure to find a nicely shaped tree. Just check to see whether you need to dig up the tree yourself or bring your own saw, and do a little homework up front to determine the type of tree you prefer.

If you want to plant your tree later, or purchase a living tree, your local nursery can probably supply a tree that’s fit to your zone. Take a friend along; the tree and its root sack are heavy. And the tree will cost more, but last way beyond the season in a special place in your landscape.

Size up your selection

Most lots give you a height, but often the problem with Christmas tree sizes at home have more to do with diameter and the traffic area where you plan to place the tree. If that’s an issue, bring a tape measure along to assess your tree’s potential footprint in your home. It also helps you assess whether you can fit the tree in your car on the way home!

And size your tree up for shape. At eye level, they all look great. But have someone who works at the lot or a family member pull the tree out and either spin it slowly or let you walk around the tree to look for blank spots. If you only have one problem low on the tree, you probably can make up for it against a wall, depending on where you’ll display it.

Variety really is a matter of personal preference. White spruce trees are excellent for ornaments, but the popular Scotch pine stays fresh a long time and is easy to replant if you’re choosing a living tree. And the Noble fir has stiff branches that turn upward, perfect for heavy or large ornaments. And if you typically trim off a few lower branches for space and to make garlands or wreaths, you can’t beat the look of the noble fir!

Look for signs of freshness

If you’re buying a living tree, check to be sure the soil is moist and that it has some live buds. For fresh cut trees, you also want to gently bend a branch and make sure it’s flexible. Then run your fingers along another branch. Dry and loose needles indicate an older, drying tree. Shaking the tree slightly also checks for falling green needles, a sign of a dry tree.

Of course, you want to keep your tree fresh. Most lots will make a small fresh cut along the bottom of the trunk for you so your new tree will soak up water right away when you get it home. Tree farms often help your net or bail your tree for safe transport. Your living tree in particular needs a few days in a cool space like a garage to transition to the heat of your home before decorating. Keep your tree watered until Christmas is over and you either plant or recycle your tree!


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[Image credit for tree bailing: The National Christmas Tree Association]