How to Pick the Best Christmas Tree This Year

Because only Charlie Brown can make some trees look cute.

Picking out a Christmas tree is my favorite part of the season. Whether in Florida, where I grew up, or here in New York, I've always loved walking through the rows of evergreen trees and smelling the scent of sap and pine. There's a reason so many Christmas movies feature a scene of purchasing one. It's truly a cinematic experience. But as wonderful as it is, it can also be a bit stressful in real life. Where do you get one? How do you pick a good one? Like the rest of life, even beautiful experiences can benefit from some preparation.

That's where Thrillist comes in. With this guide, the guesswork of getting the best tree (and enjoying the experience) is done away with. Just be prepared to spend a bit more on Christmas trees this year, as experts say inflation will affect the holiday icons. Read on to ensure you can enjoy the most wonderful time of the year.

What type of tree is a Christmas tree?

Christmas trees are typically fir, spruce, or pine and are evergreen. There are multiple varieties of fir, spruce, and pine trees that serve as Christmas trees, but in the United States, the most common types are Fraser fir, Balsam fir, Douglas fir, and Blue spruce trees. The Christmas Tree Association reports that fewer varieties of Christmas trees may be available in 2022 due to the increase in demand and continued extreme weather events that impact supply.

Clay Banks/Unsplash

When do Christmas tree farms open?

Most Christmas tree farms will open before December, and traditionally, the day to put up the Christmas tree is the fourth Sunday before Christmas, which falls on November 26 this year. Most Christmas tree farms across the country report that they will be opening on Saturday, November 25. Some farms will open earlier than that, but by November 25, Christmas tree farms near you should be open and operating.

Where can I buy a Christmas tree near me?

The National Christmas Tree Association has a very nifty Christmas tree locator map, which can help you find a tree farm near you. There will be options to cut your own tree or pick your selection from a pre-cut tree. The map also has farms where you can go on sleigh rides and meet Santa. If you aren't near one of the 2,363 farms listed on the NCTA map, there are also other options. Hardware stores often have Christmas trees, including most Lowe's and Home Depot stores.

How do I choose the best Christmas tree?

Picking the best tree depends a bit on what you're looking for. Depending on what you want, you'll want to choose the right type of tree. The most popular options include Fraser fir, Balsam fir, Douglas fir, and Blue spruce. Fraser firs are most often used as the White House Christmas tree, while Balsam firs grow in more regions of North America. Douglas firs are the most popular option on the West coast, while Blue spruces have blue-green needles that make it look almost like its branches are dusted with snow.

Whichever type of tree you prefer, make sure you pick the freshest-cut tree. Obviously, this is easiest if you are chopping your own. But if you are purchasing a pre-cut tree, ask the salesperson where the trees on the lot were cut and which are the freshest.

The National Christmas Tree Association suggests asking the following questions of your salesperson:

  • Are they delivered once at the beginning of the season or several shipments during the season?
  • Which tree type performs best in your climate?

If the salesperson looks at you and says something like "I just work here" and can't point you in the right direction, don't worry. You can determine if your tree is fresh by pulling the branch of a tree toward you. If needles fall off the tree, that means the tree isn't very fresh. Other indicators that the tree is too dried out, according to the NCTA, include excessive needle loss, discolored foliage, musty odor, needle pliability, and wrinkled bark.

"A good rule-of-thumb is, when in doubt about the freshness of a tree, select another one. If none of the trees on the lot look fresh, go to another lot," the NCTA suggests.

How do I take care of my Christmas tree?

Once you've selected your tree and brought it home, you'll need to care for it to keep it looking fresh throughout the season. The first thing that needs to be done is the base of the tree needs to be sawed off. Often, this will be done at the lot where you purchased the tree, but if not, make sure it gets done. Cutting off some of the base is essential because it will open up the tree's pores, allowing it to absorb water better. The NCTA recommends cutting off a half inch of the base.

Then, you'll want to put it in a base with water as quickly as possible and keep it watered. Christmas trees can take in about a gallon of water every 24 hours, so you'll need to check the water daily or every other day to keep your tree fresh and full of its needles. The tree's base should constantly be submerged in water.

"As a general rule, stands should provide one quart of water per inch of stem diameter. Devices are available that help maintain a constant water level in the stand," the NCTA advises. Finding the right size stand is also important. You don't want to trim down the sides of the tree base if it can be avoided.

When decorating your tree, try to use lights that have smaller bulbs and use less heat. The hotter bulbs are not only a fire hazard but are also likely to dry the tree out faster. The less heat around the tree, in general, the better. It will prevent the tree from drying out and reduce safety hazards.

Annie Spratt/Unsplash

What do I do with my Christmas tree when the holidays are over?

Avoid throwing out your Christmas tree. They are recyclable! You can take your Christmas tree to a recycling center or see if there is a tree recycling or mulching program in your area. The programs are growing in popularity across the country, so it's possible one may be near you. Some nonprofits will do tree pickup directly from your house, normally for a small donation.

One trick to make cleanup easy is to put a plastic tree bag under the base of your tree, which you can then hide with a tree skirt. At the end of the season, just pull the bag up over the tree to transport the whole thing outside. If you're recycling the tree, you'll want to remove the decor, the tree base, and the tree bag before sending it off to its recycling destination. The NCTA has a complete list of recycling ideas for your tree on the organization's website.

Can you replant a Christmas tree?

You can! If your tree still has its root ball intact, you can replant it. You'll need to make sure you're adequately prepared. You'll need to dig a hole deep enough before the ground freezes. After you dig a hole (This Old House recommends a two-foot deep hole with an 18-inch diameter), fill it with plastic bags filled with leaves to keep the hole insulated. Then, cover the hole to ensure no one falls or trips on it.

The replanting process is a bit complex, but it will require water and a few preventive measures to make sure the tree doesn't freeze up before it takes root in the ground. This Old House has a simple, six-step breakdown of the process.

Whether you choose a six-foot tall Fraser fir that you chop down yourself or pick the scraggliest tree at your local lot, the most important part of any Christmas tree (besides fire safety) is choosing one that will bring more joy into your home this holiday season. 

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Opheli Garcia Lawler is a Staff Writer on the News team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @opheligarcia and Instagram @opheligarcia.