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Pining for a real Christmas tree? Here’s how to pick the perfect one

recycle your christmas tree
Whether you call it a Christmas tree or Hanukkah bush, there’s something about having some fresh greenery in your home this time of year. If you prefer living to artificial, we’ve got some tips for picking a tree that will last until you recycle or compost it after the holidays.

Do your research

Fir, pine, spruce, cypress, and cedar are among the most popular types of Christmas trees, according to the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA); most of those branch off into more specific types, like the Douglas fir, the Scotch pine, and the Arizona Cypress. Each one has its unique characteristics; balsam firs’ needles are long-lasting, while Scotch pines resist drying, and Fraser firs smell fantastic.

There’s an app for that

Because of course there is. The Doug Fir Christmas Tree Guide for Android gives the history and biology of the top 10 Christmas trees in America. (The information is also available on the website, laid out in a handy chart so you can see that while the Colorado blue spruce has the stiffest branches (good for holding weighty decorations), it’s pretty prickly and doesn’t retain its needles well.

Christmas tree shopping
(Image © Lori Sparkia via

Find a farm (or grab an ax)

The NCTA has a useful tree farm and lot locator. It lists the addresses, phone numbers, and websites of tree sellers in your area, so you can give them a call to make sure they have your favorite tree on hand. If you’re intrepid, own the equipment, and live near a wooded area, you can check with the USDA’s Forest Service website to make sure you’re actually allowed to chop down your local forest’s trees. KTUU has some rules and regulations you need to follow if you’re looking for a free tree.

Buy online

If you have your heart set on a balsam fir but live south of Virginia, you might want to try your luck online. Some sites are dedicated just to Christmas trees and wreaths, but you can buy a live Christmas tree from somewhere like Home Depot.

Measure for measure

Measure the height of your ceiling, and don’t forget to take into account the inches your tree stand and star will add. That way you can find a tree that’s the right height, avoiding a Clark Griswold situation.

Christmas tree shopping
(Image © Quanthem via

Timing is everything

Lots of trees will stay fresh and fragrant for three to four weeks, so now that Thanksgiving is over, feel free to find your foliage.

Put it to the test

Once you get to the farm, look for cues that the tree is fresh. Gently pulling a branch toward your shouldn’t cause the needles to detach; if that happens, move on to another tree.  “If the tree doesn’t smell enough, don’t buy it,” says This Old House landscape contractor Roger Cook.

Consider a Festivus pole

If the thought of vacuuming up a pile of needles for the next few weeks doesn’t appeal to you, or you’re afraid of how your cat will react, you can always boycott the commercialism with a Festivus pole.

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