Measure the Room
Before you size up a tree, size up the space it will occupy. “Ask, ‘What’s the height limit with a tree stand and an angel or star on top? What’s the maximum width to pass through the hall?’” says David Murbach, manager of the gardens division at New York City’s Rockefeller Center, where he has helped select the tree for 21 years. (Rule of thumb: Eight-foot ceilings fit a six- or seven-foot tree.)
Check for Dryness
If you're buying a tree that's not native to your region, pay extra attention to issues like needle freshness, since the tree has been in transit. Avoid trees that have been lying in piles or in the sun; they can be dry and brittle, says Chastagner, who suggests giving them a gentle shake to be sure they aren’t dropping green needles. As Murbach points out, only artificial trees guarantee a pristine floor: “Just be prepared to miss that scent.”
Consider the Varieties
Blue spruces have a pretty silvery hue but prickly needles. Among firs, the Douglas is traditional, but the Fraser and the noble, which hold their needles longer, are two of the most popular, says Gary Chastagner, a professor of plant pathology at Washington State University, in Puyallup. Or, look for one of these specific characteristics.
Christmasy scent: Balsam firs are just this side of pine-fresh overload and maintain their scent longer than most other holiday trees do.
Strong branches: If you like to smother your tree with heavy ornaments, a noble fir’s flexible branches can support them―and endure repeated tugs from children.
Needle retention: The Fraser fir is the champ, Your vacuum will thank you.
Soft needles: To avoid those ouches when the tree pricks your kids, choose a flexible-needled white pine.
Good for allergy sufferers: If a fresh tree brings tears to your eyes, try a Leyland cypress. It’s not a pollen producer, so its scent is much less sneeze-inducing.