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.