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Christmas Tree Buying Guide - How to Get the Best Fir for your Buck

How lovely are those branches...unless you're bah humbugging over the price. Forking over a substantial amount of cash for a dying, shedding tree can kill Christmas spirit. But with some smart shopping tips you can enjoy those leafy fronds and still save money for the holiday ham.

Before getting started, you need to know some basics about the most popular trees and how to best select them. The National Christmas Tree Association has compiled the following list based on availability and annual sales:

1. Frasier Fir
This tree smells great and holds on to needles longer than the average fir. It has a nice, dark green color and travels well.

2. Douglas Fir
While it isn't exactly a true fir tree, the Douglas is a hugely popular option for folks with a reasonable budget. These trees are very dense and have much smaller needles than the average Christmas tree.

3. Balsam Fir
This pyramid-shaped tree has huge appeal with its flat and short branches that hold ornaments well. It's very fragrant too.

4. Colorado Blue Spruce
Often times this tree is sold with roots to be planted post-holiday season and is the official White House Lawn Christmas tree. The Colorado Spruce boasts bluish needles that rarely drop, unlike many of the fir varieties.

5. Noble Fir
These stately trees are known for being very symmetrical and their strong branches make perfect ornament supports. Branches are more widely spaced with allows for attractive display. Needles are more flat than most and almost sticky with a plastic feel.

The Living Tree Purchase
Your two most prominent options for buying the holiday tree are at a local lot or a tree farm. While going to a lot is much more expedient, getting the family together for a tree farm road trip is becoming a popular tradition. If you buy a tree from a lot keep in mind that it has been chopped for a few days. Look for trees that have few brown needles and don't drop a ton when you gently shake it. Although many trees are colored prior to lot arrival, it doesn't shorten the life span of it--just be aware that it's a common practice. Selecting your own tree from the farm is the only way to insure an absolutely fresh specimen.

  • Measure the space. Your eyes are usually bigger than that corner by the fireplace. Consider not only the height but also the width of the tree. Would the space be best suited by a tall, thin tree or a short and squatty one? Get out the tape measurer--modifying the tree post-purchase is a pain.
    Check out the base of the tree and make sure it is straight. I invested in a swivel tree stand a few years back, which helps support a curved base. But without it, mounting a crooked trunk is virtually impossible. Even if you've found the perfect tree shape, it's imperative the trunk will cooperate.
  • Lightly grab a branch and drag your hand toward the end. If many (or most) of the needles drop, you're in for some serious vacuuming. The majority of the needles should stay intact.
  • The moment you arrive home, mount it and give it ample water. He'll probably need a refill just a few hours after the first fill up. Your tree will suck the majority of water within three days, so keep it looking healthier longer with an initial boost of H2O.
  • Generally, the Douglas and Frasier firs are the cheapest to buy from a lot or farm. But they drop leaves very quickly and have much wimpier branches than the Noble Firs.
  • It pays to check around for the best prices, but in my area, Lowe's has always had the best quality trees at the lowest prices. Smaller lots offer nice selections as well but are much more expensive.
  • Obviously, the price of trees drops as Christmas draws near. But I enjoy savoring several weeks of decorated tree as opposed to getting a good deal the week before.

 

Artificial Intelligence
I can't advocate buying a fake tree. It's just not part of my DNA. Although I grunt and grumble over the price of live trees, it's still mandatory that we avoid plastic and spray on tree "scent". But I understand the appeal of artificial--no dropping needles, cheaper long-term costs, and no water spills make it an easy sell. If you choose the assembly tree, be smart about your purchase. You won't get another chance to select a different shape or type for many years.

  • Buy an artificial tree that you like a lot. To make it last and enjoy it year after year, you should like it at least five times as much as a live tree.
  • Check assembly directions. Practice with the store model to see how difficult it is to insert the branches. Some are ridiculously tough to insert each limb. The last thing you want is to spread sour sentiments during decorating time.
  • Opt for the plain trees with no lights. Maybe one year you'll want to use a different color scheme. Lights are cheap, and it's less complicated to do it yourself.
  • Shop before Thanksgiving or after Christmas. The best time to buy is post-holiday, so if you're in the market, grab a real tree this year and look to buying one on clearance during markdowns.
  • Only order online if you've seen the product in the store. Needle texture, shape, and overall quality can't be verified from an online picture--you need to have touched it ahead of time.

 

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