Selecting the Right Christmas Tree Selecting the Right Christmas Tree

Each Christmas season, millions of trees both artificial and natural are purchased across the nation. Since having a Christmas tree is a holiday tradition, many families go out of their way to visit tree farms and lots or scour the Internet and retail stores in search of the tree of their dreams. Everyone is looking for the perfectly shaped, fullest, and most beautiful Christmas tree, but often aren't sure just how to find it.

Natural Trees

Many families are attracted to the tradition of celebrating Christmas with a real tree. Others are attracted to the scent of pine filling the air in their homes. Whatever the reasons for getting a real Christmas tree, there are some things you should consider beforehand.

The first thing to do is think about where you'll be putting the tree. Make sure you have enough room. It's also important to keep the tree out of direct heat; to do otherwise would create a fire hazard, or, at the very least, dry the tree out and kill it sooner than expected. After you've decided on a space for your tree, the next thing to ask yourself is what species of tree you want.

A lot of people think all Christmas trees are the same. This isn't the case—the kind of tree you choose depends on factors such as the shade of green, thickness, and type of fragrance you desire.

The most common types of Christmas trees come from evergreen species, such as pines, firs, and spruces. Here's a list of the popular trees sold throughout the United States.

Balsam Fir

Balsam Firs have needles ¾–1 ½ inch long, and have flat, long-lasting needles that are rounded at the tip. They are a nice, dark green with a silvery cast. As a Christmas tree, people enjoy their dark-green appearance, long-lasting needles and attractive form. They also retain their pleasing fragrance.

Douglas Fir

Douglas Firs have a good fragrance. They range from blueish to dark green in color, with 1–1 ½ inch needles that are soft to the touch and radiate out through the branches. Douglas fir needles give off one of the best aromas when crushed. This is a popular type of Christmas tree used in the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii, and Guam.

Fraser Fir

Fraser Firs have dark green, flattened needles that are usually ½–1 inch long. The tree has good needle retention; a nice scent; and strong, pyramid-shaped branches, which turn upward. This combination of form, needle retention, color, and pleasant scent makes it a popular Christmas tree.

Grand Fir

Grand Firs have needles that are 1–1 ½ inch long with glossy, dark green tops and two highly visible, white lines of stomata on the undersides. When the needles are crushed, they give off a citrus smell.

Leland Cypress

A hybrid of Monterey Cypress and Alaskan Cedar, this is one of the most sought-after Christmas trees in the southeastern United States. Its foliage is a dark green to gray color with upright branches and a feathery appearance. Because of its light scent, many people with allergies prefer it to other types of Christmas trees.

Noble Fir

Noble Firs have 4-sided needles that are over 1 inch long; they are bluish green but appear silver because of two white rows of stomata on the underside and one or two rows on the upper surface. The tree's short, stiff branches are great for heavier ornaments, making it a popular Christmas tree in the Pacific Northwest. It is also used to make wreaths, door swags, and garland.

White Fir

White Firs, or Concolor Firs, have blue-green needles that are ½–1 ½ inches long. The needles are nicely shaped and give off an aroma of citrus. White fir is an excellent ornamental tree and is widely planted in the eastern United States and Canada.

Afghan Pine

Mostly grown in Texas, these trees have soft, short needles with sturdy branches. The Afghan Pine also boasts an open appearance, mild fragrance, and long indoor lifespan.

Scotch Pines

Introduced in the United States by European settlers, Scotch Pines are the most common Christmas tree. Their branches as well as their dark green needles are stiff, and the latter are around 1 inch long. This tree and its characteristic scent can last about four weeks. Its needles will stay on even when dry and its open structure leaves plenty of room for ornaments.

Virginia Pine

These have dark green needles that are 1 ½–3 inches long in twisted pairs. Their strong branches enable them to hold heavy ornaments. The aromatic scent of the Virginia Pine makes it a very popular Southern Christmas tree.

White Pine

The largest pine in the U.S. and native to Michigan and Maine, the white pine has little or no fragrance. It's blue-green needles are around 2–5 inches long and come in bundles that give the tree a full appearance. Its slender branches support fewer and smaller decorations compared with Scotch Pines.

Carolina Sapphire

This tree has a steely blue color; dense, lacy foliage with tiny yellow flowers; and an aroma that is a cross between lemon and mint. It's a popular tree in the South.

Black Hills Spruce

The Black Hills Spruce is very dense and pyramidal looking. It has green to blue-green needles, which are about ½–¾ inch long. The branches are stiff and will hold many ornaments. The needles are prickly, though, and may not be suitable for families with young children.

Blue Spruce

The Blue Spruce is the official state tree of Colorado and Utah. Due to its stiff needles, pyramidal shape, and cone-shaped crown, it's very popular as a Christmas tree or an ornamental. Its needles are usually a dull bluish gray to silvery blue but sometimes silvery white. They emit a resinous odor when crushed and are around ¾–1 ½ inch long.

White Spruce

This medium-sized conifer is popular for its shape and color in the United States and Canada. It is the state tree of South Dakota. Needles are usually ½ to ¾ inch long, blunt at the tip, and green to bluish green in color. Needles are four-sided and grow from short, twig-like structures on the stem. When the needles are crushed, they give off an unpleasant odor.

Shopping

After deciding on a type and size of Christmas tree, make sure to pick one that is fresh. A freshly cut tree will last longer, and its needles won't dry out and fall. Look for one that is green, not brown. The needles of pines and spruces should bend but not break, and it should be hard to pull off the branches.

While looking around for a fresh tree, make sure the trunk has some sap coming out of it. Another way to test for freshness is to slightly drop and shake the tree. The needles should not fall. If they do, your tree may be dry and was cut a while ago. Of course, a few needles will always drop because trees tend to shed.

If you are unsure about the tree you want to purchase, ask the seller for information. If they don't know the answers to your questions, keep on shopping.

Artificial Trees

Many people opt for an artificial tree because they dread cleaning up all the needles that fall or are left behind from a real one. Others want to avoid spending money every year for a new tree, and some people like the option of buying a color-coated tree that matches their décor. Whatever your reason for wanting one, looking for the right artificial tree can be just as challenging as looking for a real one.

Originally, artificial trees looked fake compared to real trees and were considered a kind of Christmas ornament themselves. Today, many manufacturers of trees make it difficult to distinguish between artificial and real.

The varieties of artificial trees include fiber optics pre-lit, decorative, and plain. All artificial trees come in different sizes and thickness (wide or slim). Fiber optics are trees that use a single incandescent bulb ranging from five to fifty watts. Light is transmitted from a single bulb through small optic fibers along each branch of the tree. The decorative trees are trees that are come already decorated with lights and ornaments. The plain artificial ones you decorate yourself.

The first thing to consider when buying an artificial tree is whether it is safe to use. Flame-resistant components are a must and, for pre-lit Christmas trees, UL® approval is mandatory. Every precaution should be taken to keep the tree from catching fire.

The way the tree is constructed is a major factor to consider. The foliage should be crafted of crush-resistant material such as poly-vinyl. Also, take into account the length and softness of the needles, and remember that your tree should be easy to put together, take apart, and store.

Usually, the cheaper the artificial Christmas tree, the thinner the branch wire will be. Before you jump at the chance to save a buck, though, consider that the wire of the branches needs to be strong enough to hold your heaviest ornaments. Besides, you want your tree to look as natural as possible, and it won't if you can see straight through it because of the thin branch wires.

With artificial Christmas trees, you aren't limited to the color green: pink feather, purple tinsel, blue-flocked, orange-yellow maple, or lime-colored trees can match any theme or décor you like.

Artificial trees don't need as much maintenance as natural ones, but, then again, they don't have that wonderful pine smell either. When it comes down to choosing the perfect tree, it is ultimately a matter of taste, space, and budget.

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