Tips for Choosing the Right Christmas Tree

Passions run deep when it comes to the ideal Christmas tree.

For some, only a traditional pine will do. Others could care less about looks, opting instead for a tree that will fill the house with the fragrance of Christmas. And let’s not leave out the sentimentalists, those Charlie Brown types with the power to nurture a few scruffy tufts of greenery into something lush.

Whatever the preference, for lovers of this holiday tradition one thing is almost certain: Whether it's pine, fir or spruce, a real tree is always better than that most grievous of yuletide follies — plastic.

So for those planning to trek to a chilly city lot or hike through the woods in search of the perfect evergreen, consider first that not all Christmas trees are created equal. We take a look at some of the top tree types to help you make your pick.

Noble Fir

The Cadillac of Christmas trees, the noble fir is usually the most expensive on the lot. Bred to provide plenty of space between branches for large, dangling ornaments, this tree is meant for the over-decorator. It has some of the strongest branches around - and it’s ready for heaping helpings of candy canes and strings of lights. Lightly scented, the Noble fir is the tree of choice for those looking to add just a hint of Christmas to the air.

Douglas Fir

Long the most popular Christmas tree in America, the Douglas fir is a dense and full variety with a sweet smell and dark green or blue-green needles. It’s generally cheaper than the noble fir, and its thick branches are ornaments unto themselves — bringing more of the outdoors inside (and leaving most of your grandmothers’ ornaments in their boxes). It’s the tree of choice if your ideal decorating day involves more eggnog by the fire and less tinsel hanging.

Scotch Pine

The “original” Christmas tree, the Scotch pine was the first tree to be commercially cultivated across the country. Its popularity has since given way to the firs mentioned above, especially as its long, prickly needles tend to dissuade those with kids and pets. The Scotch pine remains a favorite with Christmas tree traditionalists, as it has the classic looks of a true pine tree. The Scotch pine has good, strong branches, and lasts an especially long time after cutting, making it a great option for those who want a low-maintenance conifer during the busy holiday season. Be prepared to trade fragrance for longevity — the Scotch pine doesn’t have the strong scent that some fir trees do.

Blue Spruce

For those looking for an alternative to the lustrous greens of the pine and fir families, the blue spruce is a more delicate, silvery blue-green Christmas tree. These trees have a medium fragrance, and are lovely to look at — but they tend to drop even more needles than pines and firs. If you plan to get a blue spruce, buy it a little closer to the holiday.

Tips For Any Tree

Whichever tree you choose, keep a few things in mind before you tie it to the roof of your car:

1. Most people check for a tree’s freshness by bouncing or shaking the tree in the lot, looking to see how many needles fall to the ground. Though not a bad method, it’s generally more effective to grip a branch and run it through your hand, checking to see how many needles come off.

2. When out on the lot, it’s easy for the eyes to be bigger than your living room. Measure both the tree’s height and width, and know in advance how much space you have to spare in your living room (or wherever it is you want to put your tree). When you measure the span at the bottom, make sure you leave enough space to pass between your tree and any furniture in the room. While a full, luscious tree can be a wonderful thing, you don’t want to be tripping over it all month long.

3. To avoid a crooked conifer, make sure the tree has a nice, straight trunk.

4. Most trees have made lengthy journeys to get to your local lot, and it’s likely the tree’s original cut has healed over, making it difficult for the tree to draw water. So take off an inch from the base when you get it home, or better yet, get the lot attendant to lop it off for you.