How To Choose The Best Live Christmas Tree, According To An Expert

Insider secrets from a Christmas tree farm.

Spring Creek Growers Christmas Tree Farm
Photo: Courtesy of Spring Creek Growers

As Thanksgiving approaches, many of us are also thinking about preparations for Christmas. It only happens once a year, but when the time arrives, it can bring more merriment and memory-making than the rest of the seasons combined. The holidays often include a visit to a Christmas tree farm, and what you learned on your last trip might now be just a vague memory, so it's time to brush up and take notes so you can make the most of your visit.

We spoke with Lauren Kirchner, director of sales and marketing at Spring Creek Growers in Magnolia, Texas, to learn some tips and tricks for finding and taking home the freshest trees. Spring Creek Growers is in its 33rd season, and the farm is located on Kirchner's grandparents' original homestead, so her family has learned a lot along the way. "It's such a meaningful tradition," Kirchner says, "There are always new families visiting the farm to find their first Christmas trees, and others come back year after year, which makes what we do so special." Read on for her top tips, and you might just be in for your best visit yet.

Know Before You Go

After you've decided which Christmas tree farm you want to visit, choose a day. Timing is crucial: "If you're planning to cut your own tree and want to have the most options to choose from," Kirchner says, "be sure to visit the farm within a week of their opening date." That's usually around Thanksgiving, either just before the holiday or the weekend after it. If you wait too late, you'll have fewer options and may be faced with empty fields, depending on the popularity of the farm.

Pre-cut or cut-and-choose trees? Many farms offer both, giving you options once you reach the field. "Farms in different regions have different field-grown trees," she says. "Spring Creek Growers has Leyland cypress and Virginia pine trees available for the ultimate cut-and-choose experience, and we have an array of pre-cut firs flown in from elsewhere."

With Spring Creek Growers, as with most other farms, there are saws available to help you channel your inner lumberjack and cut a tree yourself. (Check websites to ensure there are tools available.) If you don't want to wield a saw, you can also choose from any available pre-cut options. In either case, Kirchner says, "You should have an idea of the type of tree you want to take home before you arrive." Having a plan will help the day run more smoothly.

Choosing a Tree

While everyone has different preferences when choosing a Christmas tree, Kirchner says that the main points families consider are fragrance and appearance. "The Virginia pine is often the most popular because of the fragrance. It has the traditional long-needle look, while the Leyland cypress has almost no fragrance and looks like a bushy, soft cedar. People with allergies typically handle that one well because the scent is less powerful," she says.

Freshness is also important. "A field-cut tree will be the freshest choice. You can check for freshness by lightly grabbing a branch from halfway in and gently running your hand along it. Shed is common from the interior of the tree, but you don't want to have a handful of fallen needles." You can do the branch test with pre-cut fir trees too and evaluate the falloff. Too many fallen needles means a dry tree and less longevity once you get it home.

Spring Creek Growers Christmas Tree Farm
Courtesy of Spring Creek Growers

Height Matters

While most farms provide saws and measuring poles, you have to bring your knowledge of your home. "Know your ceiling height and the space that you're working with, because trees always look smaller in the field than in your home," Kirchner says. Having your measurements on hand will help you make the most of your tree and your space–and will keep you from paying for height that you'll only have to trim off later.

When it comes to sawing in the field, Kirchner says, "Try to cut the longest trunk possible. Cutting close to the ground gives you a lot of trunk space to work with. That's helpful when you're moving the tree, loading it onto the top of your car, and trying to get it into the stand at home. "Everything is easier when you give yourself more trunk to work with," she says.

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

Once it's cut, Kirchner says, "you have to treat your fresh-cut tree like fresh-cut flowers. Trees are very thirsty right after they're cut, so you need to put your tree in a big bucket of water as soon as possible. As long as the trunk is covered with a couple of inches of water, you'll be maintaining its freshness." If you cut the tree around Thanksgiving and you're not ready to put it up yet, Kirchner advises keeping the trunk in two to three inches of water and storing the tree in a shady area.

Once it's cut and loaded onto your car, don't leave it there for too long. In other words: Beware the sap seal. That's because, Kirchner says, "If you let the tree get dry, the cut face will form a seal on the bottom to protect itself." This makes it difficult for the tree to absorb water once you do get it into its stand.

"If you forget to water it and the sap seal forms, you should take the tree out and cut off an inch or two and get it back into water immediately," Kirchner says. The importance of hydration applies to pre-cut trees too. "If you get a pre-cut tree, ask the farm to do a fresh cut on the base, and then get it home within 30 minutes and put the trunk in water immediately," she advises.

Have questions about opening dates or choosing trees? Call up your local Christmas tree farm and ask. Then start clearing a corner of your living room and pulling the ornaments out of storage, because the holidays are just around the corner, and we'll soon be ready to celebrate.

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