5 Pitfalls to Avoid When Choosing the Perfect Christmas Tree

When I was very young, I think I had pretty much the perfect neighborhood. It was a street that housed all of my closest friends, I never felt unsafe and we would all play outside every day after school until it was time for dinner. My mom would yell my name down the street until I could hear her and I would ride my bike back home when it was time for dinner or if I “forgot” to practice my piano.

Our house was nothing special. In fact, it was old and never would have been considered Instagram worthy. But, we LOVED this house. There were awesome nooks and crannies that made for amazing forts and hiding places. One of the things I loved most about my house was the huge vaulted ceilings in the front room because it meant GIANT Christmas trees.

We would drive up to the mountains and cut our own tree every year.

The funny thing about giant trees in the mountains is that they don’t LOOK like giant trees compared to the 40 foot tall trees surrounding them. So every year, we would underestimate the height of our tree and have a treacherous drive home from the mountain and an equally treacherous experience getting the tree both inside of the house and then upright and stable.

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My dad would inevitably always end up in a very foul mood (I used to think he just didn’t have the Christmas Spirit, until I became an adult and had to haul a four million pound, soaking wet Christmas tree into the house with minimal damage to the floors, door jams, walls, etc.), BUT after hours and hours and hours of getting the tree secure, trimming off half of the tree so it would actually fit in the house, cleaning up needles and sap, putting up the lights and the ornaments and recovering from the after-tree-grumpies (which often ended up with arguments, tears and time outs), we would take great pride in the beauty of our tree.

Like it was for sure always the best tree we had ever chosen, ever. And it was, without question, the best tree in the entire neighborhood.

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When I got married, I thought this epic Christmas Tree Selection Cycle (CTSC) of misery-hard work-grouchiness-pride was the only way to successfully do the Christmas tree thing. My husband and I had our fair share of arguments and disagreements about the “perfect tree” (his stance was to let the children choose (even if they chose a small, ugly one!!!!) and that I was being ridiculous in my rejection of every tree they suggested—though that truly was part of the tradition—one MUST find the perfect tree even at the expense of the tender feelings of small children to effectively complete the CTSC.)

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In recent years, we opted for a (don’t hate me, I almost can’t type it because I feel such guilt from the break in tradition) fake tree.

Our fake tree really is beautiful and it has simplified the CTSC cycle and it helps my marriage and keeps the kids from tears. It really is a win-win in our case.

However, prior to me abandoning tradition and selling my soul to the fake Christmas tree gods, I had nearly 40 years of experience in choosing perfect Christmas trees, so I thought I would impart some of my wisdom to those of you who want to find the perfect tree and skip the miserable parts and go straight to the pride parts of the CTSC. Here are some tips for success:

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  1. MEASURE, MEASURE, MEASURE I would say one of our bigger downfalls in Christmas past has been not accurately measuring floor to ceiling in the location we wanted to put up our tree, and not adequately measuring both the height and width of the tree at the farm (or in the mountains). Measure the height of your ceiling, but remember to factor in the height of your stand and whatever type of tree topper you traditionally use. Also clear the space where you'll put the tree and see how deep it is. Different species of trees have vastly different widths, so you want to be sure you won't be squishing the branches against the wall, not to mention that you can get that bad boy through the front door (don’t even ask me how many times we have had to “heave HOOO” through the front door). Also, be sure and keep an eye on the size of your stand (here is a stand recommendation for trees up to 16’ tall). You want to be certain the trunk of your tree will fit in it (THIS MIGHT BE MY MOST IMPORTANT TIP!!), and that it's big enough to keep your tree upright. If you're upgrading to a larger tree this year, you may need to invest in a bigger stand. 

  2. LOOK FOR A TREE FARM NEAR YOU. Though we would drive over an hour up the mountain for a tree, that may have been one of the bigger sources of our annual stress. Holding your breath driving home with a giant tree on the roof of your car, ignoring the squeals and gasps of all members of the car as said tree slides ever so slightly to one side or another, might be a necessity, but the shorter the drive, the less likely you will run out of oxygen from holding your breath so long. Over the last several years we have used Plumper Pumpkin Patch and Tree Farm. It is a fairly short drive from home, and they shake (get rid of excess water, dead needles, bugs and rodents…this is a must!), and bale and help you load the tree on top of your car. They also have Santa and other fun Christmas festivities scheduled throughout the season making it an extra fun family event.

  3. DEAD OR ALIVE? If you aren’t shopping at a Tree Farm, or you are and you are looking for the pre-cut variety, here are some tips to make sure you get the best tree possible:

    • Test the branches. Grab any branch on the tree between your thumb and forefinger, gently clamp down and pull towards yourself. If you end up with a handful of needles, the tree is already past its prime.

    • Crush the needles in your hand and then check the scent. "If the tree doesn't smell enough, don't buy it," says Roger.

    • Bounce the tree by holding it a few inches above the ground and dropping it. If the exterior needles fall off, it's sure sign of a bad apple. Needles that fall off from the interior of the tree are normal.

    • Make absolutely sure the tree's trunk fits your stand. Trimming the diameter of the tree by cutting away the bark to try and make a too big trunk fit into a too small stand will strip the tree of its cambium layer, which is what absorbs water. This substantially decreases your tree’s “shelf life”.

  4. FRESH CUT. Cutting the end off the trunk is critical to opening up the veins that will deliver water to the branches. Use a pruning saw, and take at least an inch off. You can have the lot do it before you leave if you're headed for home, but you should wait and do it yourself if you're going to be gone more than four hours. Otherwise, the end will glaze over with new pitch, and the tree won't take up water.

  5. UP SHE GOES. With the tree upright and in the stand, cut off the mesh and spread out the branches. Most trees will open up over a couple of hours, so you should wait to start hanging lights and ornaments. Then check all your lights for shorts and trouble spots before you string the tree, (NOTHING is worse than finishing your decorating and then plugging in your lights to discover half of them are burned out—trust me this has happened to me sadly more than once) and of course never put the tree near the fireplace or lighted candles. Forest fires don’t make great Christmas memories.

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Follow these steps, while listening to Christmas carols and drinking hot cocoa and you will avoid Post Christmas Tree Rage (PCTR) for sure. Not to mention, you will undoubtedly have the most beautiful Christmas tree ever this year.

All of this perfection and beauty of course must be documented and remembered. If you want family photos taken at the farm of your choice this year, I still have a few openings. Contact me today to schedule an appointment.

Happy December and Merry Christmas!