How to pick a (real) Christmas tree

Here are 3 steps for selecting the best fresh tree for your family.

By MSN Money Partner Dec 7, 2012 4:32PM

This post comes from Len Penzo at partner blog Len Penzo dot Com.


Len Penzo dot Com logoWhen I was growing up, I had a friend whose family used to put up an artificial aluminum Christmas tree every year. It was pink.


Image: Santa Claus (© Digital Vision/Getty Images)I remember one Christmas the same family had an ornament of a smiling Elvis Presley hanging on their pink tree, just above the manger scene they had neatly tucked under it.


Those of you counting at home could reasonably argue that their version of the Nativity actually had four kings instead of three. But I digress.


Frankly, pink artificial aluminum Christmas trees make me cringe -- as do artificial trees of any other material or color. (Even if they're forest green.) Sorry.


Christmas trees are big business

When it comes to the holiday season, I demand a fresh-cut natural Christmas tree in my family room.


Apparently, a lot of people feel the same way. Americans purchased 30.8 million fresh trees last year for a total cost of $1.07 billion, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.


If you're like me, you'll probably end up buying your tree pre-cut from a big-box home-improvement center or a Christmas tree lot.


But if you're really fortunate, you live close to a farm that grows Christmas trees and cuts them on the spot. When I was growing up, my family used to go to a commercial Christmas tree farm every year, and it was one of the highlights of the season for me.


Commercial Christmas tree prices depend on several variables, including the type of tree. For example, where I live, noble firs typically are more expensive than the Douglas variety. Price also depends on tree height and whether or not you want it flocked so it looks like it has a dusting of fresh snow on it.


Get too carried away and you can easily spend well over $100.


Picking the perfect tree

Picking the perfect Christmas tree is very similar to finding the perfect Christmas gift -- they both require effort.


I know what you're thinking: "So, Len, just how hard is it?"


Actually, it's as easy as 1-2-3. In fact, picking a Christmas tree is so easy, even good ol' Charlie Brown can do it. Well, assuming he follows these three steps:


1. Know how much tree you can have before you leave the house.

Size matters. I remember the year my family brought home a big, beautiful tree only to discover, after hosing it down and putting it in the Christmas tree stand, that it was too tall for our living room. Not only did my dad buy more tree than he  needed but, sadly, he also had to butcher it before it would finally fit in our house.


The National Christmas Tree Association recommends that you measure the height and width of the space where you plan on putting your tree. As a guideline, it also says that your allocated width should be 80% of the height. Sure, your foyer's cathedral ceiling may easily accommodate a 10-foot tree, but if it doesn't have 8 feet available horizontally as well, you'll need to scale back your ambitions and find a shorter tree.

2. Determine the species that best meets your needs.

When it comes to selecting the perfect Christmas tree, the secret is identifying your own personal preferences regarding such things as the tree's color and fragrance, and the softness of the needles. If you plan on having your tree for several weeks you'll also need to make sure you purchase a tree variety that tends to hold its needles over a long period of time once it's harvested.


Those who are serious about decorating their tree should also consider how well a particular variety can accommodate ornaments. For example, some tree varieties have more space between branches. If you have heavy ornaments, you'll also want to ensure you get a tree with stiffer branches.


Once you figure out which tree best meets your needs, then look for a farm or retailer that carries the Christmas tree species you're looking for.


Personally, I prefer Douglas firs. I love the long needles, and I think they smell great. The Honeybee happens to be a big fan of noble firs. (Guess what kind of tree we get every year.)


While you're struggling with that little pop quiz, here's a chart that summarizes the traits of some of the most popular Christmas tree varieties:


Len Penzo tree chart

3. Make sure you buy a fresh tree.

Of course, when you buy your tree at a Christmas tree farm you know you are getting the freshest tree you possibly can. However, a lot of people don't have that luxury. The National Christmas Tree Association provides these helpful tips for folks who will be buying Christmas trees from a retail lot:

  • Be sure to buy your trees from a retail lot that is well-lit and stores its trees in a shaded area.
  • To ensure maximum freshness, ask when the trees were delivered.
  • Perform a freshness test. If the tree is a fir, fresh green needles will break crisply, like a carrot. If the tree is a pine, the opposite is true -- that is, fresh green pine needles will not break. Got that?
  • Be on the lookout for other signs of an old tree, including a musty odor, wrinkled bark, discoloration, and excessive needle loss.

When in doubt about the freshness of a tree, pick another one. If you have to, find another retailer.


In summary

Picking the perfect Christmas tree isn't terribly difficult. In fact, it's so simple even I can do it.


If you're still doubting yourself, stop. After all, the worst real Christmas tree will always be better than a pink aluminum one.


More on Len Penzo dot Com and MSN Money:


Dec 12, 2012 12:56AM
I guess some of you are not happy about my previous post regarding a Christmas tree, ya know what, I don't care. Christmas is suppose to be a time of year for celebrating the birth of Christ, and a Christmas tree does nothing to honor Jesus, all it is used for is a tool for greedy merchants to market their wares, and get people to spend more than they can afford. Jesus Christ is always number one for me, and I don't need a Christmas tree to honor him, on the other hand, I am not in a festive mood as far as the outlook for America, I am sick and tired of racism being stuck in my face daily, yet when I tried to speak up, I am called the racist. When you morons that voted for Obama start seeing how much your hero is going to cost your wallet starting in January, you can look in the mirror and see who caused it, of course this is assuming you work, which I highly doubt.
Dec 10, 2012 4:21AM
Douglas firs are terrible for needle retention.Thats why they're so cheap!
Dec 10, 2012 10:30AM
I use an artificial tree. So many trees are killed each year and what a waste. A living tree is so much more beautiful alive then being cut down and put in your  living room.
Dec 10, 2012 1:49PM
Now that Obama has been reelected by his voter base, 98% blacks, 77% Latinos, and the uneducated hand out to the government white part of the population, I think I will skip Christmas, as I am sure Obama will think up another tax to nail me with before the end of the year. It is certainly a sad day in America, when the losers finally outnumber the poor bastards that pay all the taxes in the first place, so stuff your Christmas tree.
Dec 7, 2012 9:35PM
I don't shop anywhere that I don't see Merry Christmas, who say happy holidays, they need to work, they have no respect for the reason for the Season and should work over time for their little god satan.
Dec 7, 2012 10:43PM



Dec 7, 2012 9:33PM
I don't have one and could care less if they exsisted period, it's about Christ and not Santa (satan) when you invert the name.  I pay for gifts, not some fat old drunk who thinks raindeers fly.  Take the tree and stick them where raindeers don't fly and people have their heads where the Sun don't shine.
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