Man dragging fresh spruce at cut your own Christmas tree farmReprinted from NAHB.org with permission of the National Association of Home Builders®.

The Christmas tree is the centerpiece of holiday memories for many people. Whether your family’s trees tend to be Norman Rockwell-like perfect, or more like the sad, spindly Charlie Brown variety, here are some things you should know to ensure you get the tree you want, and keep it in good shape throughout the holiday season.

The most common places to purchase Christmas trees are retail lots and cut-your-own farms, although mail-order catalogs and the Internet are gaining popularity. Whatever venue you choose, know what height and width you need before you make a purchase. A seven-foot tree will fit in most rooms with standard-height ceilings.

Retail lots are set up in temporary, high-traffic areas such as shopping center parking lots, and work well for people without the time to travel beyond the suburbs. You often get a variety of species to choose from, but will likely pay more for the convenience.

Look for a lot that stores the trees in a shaded area, but is well-lit so you can closely inspect them. Check the tree for freshness by bending a few needles. According to the National Christmas Tree Association(NCTA), needles on pines will not break unless they are very dry, while needles on firs should break crisply like a carrot.

Other signs that the tree is not as fresh as it could be are brownish needles, wrinkled bark, a musty smell, and needle loss. Lift the tree a couple of inches and let it drop on the stem. Some needle loss is normal — conifers shed needles in the fall as they transition to the winter — but the outer green needles should not drop off.

Before you leave the lot, have the seller cut a half-inch from the bottom of the trunk at a right angle. This will help it balance in the stand and take in the most water possible.

Cut-your-own farms ensure you will get a fresh tree, and make for a fun family activity day as they often offer wagon or sleigh rides, refreshments, and other entertainment. Most farms provide saws or will cut and bring your tree to your vehicle for you.

Christmas tree with tree gifts and fire in backgroundOnce you’ve left the lot or farm, be sure to get your tree into water within six to eight hours. If you’re not ready to display the tree indoors yet, it can be placed in a bucket in a cool area for a few days.

A traditional reservoir stand with adequate water capacity is the best way to maintain your tree’s freshness. One quart of water per inch of stem diameter is recommended. The temperature does not affect how much water the tree will take in.

To keep your tree from drying out once it is indoors:

  • Make sure the water level doesn’t go below the tree’s base
  • Keep the tree away from heat sources such as fireplaces, vents, and windows with direct sunlight
  • Lower the room’s temperature
  • Use miniature lights that produce low heat
  • Turn off tree lights when you’re not home or you’re sleeping

After the holiday season, dispose of the tree properly. Never burn any part of a tree in the fireplace or woodstove. Recycling is the most environmentally-friendly method.