7 Essential Things to Know Before Buying Your First Christmas Tree

Choose a Christmas tree that will last with these crucial tips.

christmas tree decorations
Photo: Arnt Haug/Look-foto/Getty Images

Unlike almost every holiday movie on the Hallmark Channel, buying a Christmas tree doesn’t necessarily present a meet-cute with the town’s most eligible bachelor. And it’s not as simple as selecting the prettiest pine on the lot, either. Before investing in your first Christmas tree, there are a few major things you need to take into consideration.

01 of 07

Buy Early

The ideal time to buy your tree is between Cyber Monday and the first week of December. Prices will be lower and you'll still have plenty to choose from, says Jennifer Greene, executive director of the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association. 

“By this point, there will have been a good frost, allowing for better needle retention,” she adds. “As long as your tree has enough water every day, it will last all Christmas season.” That said, if you can’t make it to a Christmas tree lot or don’t have access to a vehicle (we’re looking at you, city dwellers), you can shop online for live Christmas trees.

02 of 07

Measure Your Room

Before you head out in search of the perfect tree, size up the space it will occupy. Measure the ceiling height of the room in which you'll be setting up the tree, then consider the maximum height the room will accommodate with your desired tree topper. (Rule of thumb: A room with 8-foot ceilings can house a 6- or 7-foot tree.) Don't pull a Clark Griswold and forget to take the doorway width into account, either. 

"Measure the width of the door through which you'll be bringing in the tree, and make sure your chosen tree fits through it easily," advises David Murbach, manager of the gardens division at New York City's Rockefeller Center.

03 of 07

Research the Varieties

Christmas trees come in many shapes, sizes, and varieties. "Blue spruces give off a silver hue, and among firs, the Douglas is traditional, but the Fraser and the Noble are the most popular," says Gary Chastagner, professor of plant pathology at Washington State University in Seattle. Keep an eye out for these additional tree characteristics:

  • Christmasy scent: Balsam firs smell like your favorite holiday candle and maintain their scent longer than most other Christmas trees.
  • Strong branches: If you're planning to adorn your tree with heavy ornaments, a noble fir's flexible branches can support them—and endure repeated tugs from children and pets.
  • Needle retention: The Fraser fir is the champ here (your vacuum will thank you).
  • Soft needles: Families with little ones should consider a flexible-needled white pine, which won't prick if someone gets too close.
  • Good for allergy sufferers: If a fresh tree brings tears to your eyes, try a pollen-free Leyland cypress.
04 of 07

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 lying in piles or baking in the sun; they can be dry and brittle, says Chastagner. He suggests giving the tree a gentle shake to be sure it isn’t dropping green needles before you even move it off the lot.

05 of 07

Water It Every Day

When setting up your tree, cut off roughly one inch from the bottom straight across before placing it in the stand, says Meredith Sublett, an agrarian buyer for Williams Sonoma. In its first few days, a tree can drink gallons of water, so check and refill the stand with water every day. Also, be aware of any objects that may cause it to dry out faster. 

“Keep the tree away from any heaters, direct blows of heat (like a fireplace), and direct sunlight,” says Greene. “Christmas trees thrive in cold weather, so direct heat will reduce its lifespan.”

06 of 07

Practice Fire Safety

The easiest way to prevent a home fire is to ensure your Christmas tree is well watered. Be aware of the lights you decorate it with, opting for LED lights (which don’t get hot) whenever possible. 

“Trees don't just burst into flames,” Greene says. “It's the lights that can cause a fire. Make sure there is no breakage in the line, and you don't short the circuit."

07 of 07

Consider Your Pets

If you have pets—particularly a high-energy puppy—you might want to opt for an artificial tree. A live tree can be hazardous to animals that like to chew, and oils from the needles on certain trees can irritate their mouth and even cause symptoms like vomiting or deadly intestinal obstructions. Some trees may also be treated with chemical preservatives, which can make animals sick. 

If you’re worried about your cat or dog not being able to stay away from the tree, get an artificial one (and light a fir-scented candle to keep your holiday spirit high).

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