For those of you planning to buy a live Christmas tree this year, whether you cut one down or buy a pre-cut tree, we offer some tips for choosing and caring for your Christmas tree.
Before you buy your tree
Consider where to put your tree. Like all live plants, a Christmas tree begins to dry out as soon as it's cut, and even though you'll be watering it on a daily basis, trees are still vulnerable to heat. Do not place a Christmas tree near a fireplace, near heating ducts, portable heaters or windows. All will hasten the drying-out process and some, like fireplaces, are potential fire hazards.
Measure the space where you plan to put your tree. As with an artificial tree, you'll want to measure not only floor-to-ceiling height, but also the diameter of the space. You'll also want to measure the height of your Christmas tree stand, as well as the height of any tree topper you plan on adding.
Make sure you have a sturdy base. In addition to choosing a tree stand that is large enough to hold your tree, you'll also want to make sure that you're placing the tree on a steady, level surface to minimize the chance of it toppling.
Minimize the mess. Trees drop needles and ooze sap, and it's easy to spill water when giving your tree a drink. To protect your flooring, some experts recommend placing a large plastic sheet on the floor, which can then be covered with a tree skirt. Other experts recommend using a Christmas tree disposal bag (basically a giant trash bag), which doubles as a tree skirt that you can then pull over the tree for easy disposal. You'll also want to make sure your vacuum is powerful enough to pick up dropped needles.
Choosing your Christmas tree
Wear old clothes, bring heavy gloves, an old sheet or two, and plenty of rope. Whether you buy a pre-cut tree or plan to cut your own tree, you're going to have to get it home somehow. Wear clothes that you don't mind getting dirty; long sleeves will protect you from sharp needles. Protect your hands with a pair of heavy gardening gloves, and protect the interior of your car with a couple old sheets or drop cloths. Although many tree vendors will put your tree in compression netting to make it easier to handle, some heavy-duty rope to secure it (and your car trunk) are also a good idea. Likewise, if you're tying the tree to your car's roof, you'll probably want to lay something beneath it so that you don't scratch the paint.
Bring a tape measure. You don't want to end up with a too-tall tree.
Buying a pre-cut tree? Look at the needles and give 'em a hand. A healthy tree will have green needles that are pliable, not brittle and brown. Gently grasp a branch and tug; if needles come off in your hand, keep looking.
Look for a straight trunk. Crooked tree trunks mean unstable trees that may tip over, creating a safety hazard.
Check the base. Experts say 6 to 8 inches of the stump should be clear so you can place it in the tree stand easily.
Inspect the tree. Pre-cut Christmas trees come from tree farms, where they're carefully cultivated and shaped as they grow. Still, there's no such thing as a perfect tree. Check for bare patches that may stand out if the tree will be in the center of a room, but can be hidden if the tree is near a wall. Are branches and needles dense and full, or sparse and varied? That full, bushy tree may look lovely, but if it's too dense, you may have trouble hanging ornaments.
Cut an inch off the base. Unless your tree is freshly cut, experts say, you should lop off an inch from the base to help the tree better absorb water once it's in the stand.
Plan on cutting your own tree? Make sure the tree farm has a saw you can use, or bring your own.
Once you get your tree home
Store your tree with care. Unless you're planning to set up your tree right away, you'll need to store it in a cool place (a garage, for example) and keep it in a bucket of water so it doesn't dry out.
Keep your tree well watered. Christmas trees can suck up a gallon of water a day or more. You'll need to water your tree at least once a day (and perhaps twice) after it's set up in your house.
Keep an eye out for pets and small children as you set up and decorate. Setting up and decorating a tree is a fun family activity. But remember, that tree is big and heavy. It's a good idea to make sure kids and pets are out of the way before bringing in the tree and setting it up on a stand. Low-hanging ornaments, lights and tinsel may look pretty, but to a toddler or a pet, they may look like toys or food. Hang them with care.
When the holiday's over, recycle that tree! Experts say you should never burn an old Christmas tree because it's highly flammable. Most municipalities have either curbside pickup or designated drop-off sites for your used tree.
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