How to pick the best tree
• Before you go to a Christmas tree farm, measure the space where the tree will live — height and width — and bring that tape measure with you. Allow a few inches for a tree-topping ornament, such as a star, angel or Santa.
• Make sure you’ve got a good sturdy tree stand that will hold at least a gallon of water. If not, most tree farms sell them.
• Pick an evergreen variety to match your ornaments and decorating style. If you like to wrap the inside of the tree with hundreds of tiny white lights, pick a variety like Douglas fir that has soft needles that won’t tear up your hands. If you’ve got big, heavy ornaments, go for varieties with sturdy branches and open spaces between them — noble or Fraser firs would work well.
• In the field, walk around the tree a few times to make sure the trunk is straight and that it’s full on all sides. Give it a good shake to make sure it’s not already shedding tons of dead needles.
• After you’ve chosen the very best tree on the whole farm, you want to get it home and into a bucket of water as soon as you can. Most trees can be out of water for six to eight hours and still take up water, according to the National Christmas Tree Association (www.christmastree.org), but it’s best to make a fresh cut when you get home, lopping off another half-inch or so before setting it into the stand. This reopens the tree’s capillaries and keeps the sap flowing.
• You’ll probably have to cut off a few bottom branches to get the tree to fit comfortably in the stand. Save them to decorate your mantel.
• Monitor the water level every day or two, keeping the stand reasonably full. Trees are particularly thirsty the first few days. Plain water is fine — no need for floral preservatives.
• Oops! If you let your tree dry out completely, you can use a power drill to open up a few holes in the base to get it to draw up water again.
• The cooler the room, the longer your tree will stay fresh and moist. Keep it away from sources of heat, including fireplaces, radiators, heating ducts and direct sunlight. Always switch off the lights when you go to bed or leave the house.
— Bill Cary