How to choose and buy the best Christmas Tree

With holiday forests popping up all over town and cut-your-own Christmas tree growers opening their ranches for business, it's time to plan your tannenbaum selection strategy.

Here's how to get your money's worth and buy a Christmas tree that stays fresh, green and festive throughout the season's celebrations.

  • Before you shop: Settle on a location for your tree and measure both the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the space. While highly visible pride of place is a given, the tree is best located away from heat sources and shouldn't block entrances or routine household traffic.
  • At the lot or farm: Always shop with an eye for freshness. Buying from a cut-your-own tree farm is the best assurance of an ultra-fresh product, but there are plenty of great candidates available at neighborhood lots, too. Do a freshness test by sharply bending a few of a tree's needles with your fingers: except in super-fibrous pine varieties, fresh, green needles will break crisply just like a fresh carrot. Some dry interior needles are natural, but take a pass on any tree that has excessive needle loss and foliage discoloration, wrinkled bark or a musty odor. If you're still in doubt and can't pin down the vendor as to the tree's arrival date, move on to another lot.
  • Making your tree at home: Whether you'll be putting it up immediately or taking a few days' break before decorating, give your tree a trunk trim and a generous drink of water. For outdoor storage, choose a shady, sheltered spot, and before placing the tree in a bucket of water, make a straight cut half an inch from the bottom of its trunk to aid moisture absorption. The tree's first 24 hours at your home are its thirstiest, so keep an eye on the water level.

  • Tree-trimming time: When you're ready to bring your tree indoors, make sure you've got a stand suited to its dimensions, with a reservoir allowing one quart of water capacity for every inch of the trunk's diameter Cut another half inch off the bottom of the tree's trunk before placing it in the stand (make sure it's a straight cut, as tapers or angles don't help absorption or stability), and fill that reservoir with plain tap water. That's right─plain water. Research has shown that it's the best for your tree, and that such additives as bleach, aspirin and fertilizer can actually be detrimental to moisture retention. Keep the reservoir full and the water line above the trunk's base via daily checks, and you'll enjoy a lush, fresh tree throughout the holidays.
  • After the holidays: The season's end will eventually arrive, giving both you and your tree an opportunity to do something good for the environment. Christmas trees can easily be recycled into nutrient-rich mulch, and most cities now have post-holiday collection programs for that purpose. To find one in your area, enter your zip code at the National Christmas Tree Association's Recycling Program page.
  • To go green, go live: If you're thinking that a live tree isn't the most eco-friendly holiday choice, think again. Unlike their mostly plastic, artificial counterparts, live trees contribute positively to the environment where they're raised, are a renewable resource (one to three seedlings are planted in place of every tree harvested), and are recyclable and biodegradable after their decorative purpose has been fulfilled.

    Tom Kraeutler is the Home Improvement Editor for AOL and co-author of My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure. He councils serial renovators on the finer points of home improvement each week as host of The Money Pit, a nationally syndicated home improvement radio program.

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