The ultimate guide to buying, caring, taking down, and tree-cycling your Christmas tree.

By Nicole Sforza
James Wojcik

Picking the One

Your local lots may sell only a couple of varieties, but if you have a broad choice, “true firs” (noble, Fraser, Nordmann, and Turkish) last longest: four to six weeks. Second best for life span: Douglas fir, Scotch pine, balsam, and grand fir. Spruce trees last only two or three weeks. Shop where cut trees are kept under shady tents or wrapped in burlap—not open to full sun, where they can dry out.

Hauling It Home

After the seller cuts the trunk for you, place the tree on the car roof with the bottom facing forward to minimize needle loss. Get it in water within four to six hours of a fresh cut. If you’re not putting it up right away, set it in a bucket of water in a cool, dark place, like the garage.

Stress-Free Setup

Before you bring the tree inside but while the netting is still on, place it in its stand to minimize the mess in your living room. (Use a metal stand; plastic will break over time.) Tighten the bolts about 75 percent, haul the tree in, set it in place, and finish securing. Then fill with water.

Light It Right

For the easiest way to put on and remove lights, go vertical. Start at the bottom, continuously weaving lights up toward the top of the tree and back down to the base. LEDs use at least 75 percent less energy than traditional lights and last a whopping 25 times longer. Some people still prefer the glow of old-school varieties, but if you’re ready to make the money-saving change, try Invisilites (like the Warm White 96 LED Invisilite; $36,, tiny bulbs on a wire so thin, it disappears into the tree.

Health and Welfare

You already know that you should keep a tree away from heat sources (vents, fireplaces, woodstoves), both for fire safety and staying power, but you may not know that a tree needs to “drink” about a gallon of water every day. Check the water level daily; the trunk’s cut surface should never be exposed to air. Plain tap water is best. (Skip the chemicals and the homespun add-ins.)

The Takedown

Find out if your area offers curbside tree recycling and time the (dreaded) task of removal accordingly. When the day comes, ladle water out of the stand, using a turkey baster for the last licks. Nothing beats the plastic-tree-bag-under-the-tree-skirt for an exit strategy. (Try the Christmas-tree removal bag; $3.50, Sweep up needles rather than vacuuming; they can clog the machine.