Selecting Your Tree

Tips on Selecting your Tree at a Retail Lot

Use these practical tips to be a more informed consumer and to ensure a great experience with your Real Tree. Click the plus sign (+) next to each item to view more detailed information.

  • Measure your space
    • Be sure you know what size (height and width) you need before heading to the retail lot. Measure the ceiling height in the room where the tree will be displayed. The trees in the field look small when the sky is the ceiling. Don't overbuy. Measure the width of the area of the room where the tree will be displayed. Most trees on tree farms are trimmed to an 80% taper. So a tree that's 10' tall will be 8' wide at the bottom. A tree that will fit in the room vertically may be entirely too big horizontally.

  • Think about what type of decorations you will be using
    • Some species have more open foliage, stiffer branches or longer needles. Research the characteristics of the different species in our tree varieties section, then find a farm near you that has the species you are looking for.

  • Learn about the different species of trees
    • If you want the same species you know or have always used, great. If you want to try a different species, browse the tree varieties section of NCTA's website to become familiar with the species popular in your area before heading to the retail lot.

  • Safety first
    • Go to a retail lot that is well-lit and stores trees in a shaded area.

  • Ask questions about the trees at the lot
    • Ask the retailer when he/she gets the trees: are they delivered once at the beginning of the season, or several shipments during the season? Often, a tree obtained soon after its arrival on the retail lot will be very fresh because it was cut recently. Also ask the retailer which tree type performs best in your climate. Some species last longer and remain fresh longer than others in different climates.

  • Do a branch/needle test for freshness
    • Run a branch through your enclosed hand - the needles should not come off easily. Bend the outer branches - they should be pliable. If they are brittle and snap easily, the tree is too dry.

  • Look for other indicators of dryness or deterioration
    • Indicators might 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.

  • Recycling your tree
    • Ask the retailer about recycling Christmas Trees in your community.



What to Expect at a Choose & Cut Farm

Click the plus sign (+) next to each item to view more detailed information.

  • Be aware of possible farm hazards
    • Most tree farms keep their fields very well groomed, but there are some things that are beyond the farmer's control. Be careful of fire-ant mounds, tree stumps, an occasional blackberry vine, uneven ground and sharp saws.

  • Go to the farm prepared for a day in the country
    • Wear comfortable shoes and old clothes. Bring rain gear if the weather is threatening. The "cutter downers" and the "loader uppers" should also have gloves. DON'T FORGET THE CAMERA. It's best to leave the family dog at home (many farms will prohibit pets). But, if a pet is allowed and must come along; keep him on a leash at all times. Please don't let him "mark" other people's trees.

  • Equipment to bring
    • Saws are usually provided by the farm operator. Check ahead of time to double check if you need to bring any supplies.

  • Pricing
    • Some farms measure and price their trees individually, others sell them by the foot. Ask about the pricing policy before heading out in the field.

  • Tree size
    • Head out to the field and select the tree that fits your predetermined needs. Check the trunk to be sure that it is sufficiently straight. Keep in mind that pines will usually have, at least, some crook in their trunks. Also check that the tree has a sufficiently long handle to accommodate your stand.

  • Needles
    • In the fall of the year ALL conifers drop or shed a certain portion of their oldest needles. This is a normal part of the life cycle of the tree and occurs because the tree is preparing itself for winter. Most farms provide shaking or blowing services so that you will depart with a perfectly clean tree.

  • Cutting your tree down
    • Cutting the tree is easiest as a two person project. The "cutter downer" usually lies on the ground. While the helper holds the bottom limbs up. While the cut is being made, the helper should tug on the tree lightly to ensure that the saw kerf remains open and the saw does not bind. The tugging force should be applied to the side of the tree opposite the cut. In the case of the Leylands, the cut is best made by an attendant at the farm using a chain saw. A back cut should be made first with the final cut coming from the opposite side.

  • Transportation
    • Bring the tree to the processing area where it will be cleaned and netted. Netting makes transporting and handling the tree substantially easier.


Now you're ready to load up and head home to decorate your Real Christmas Tree.

Follow NCTA's tips for caring for a Real Christmas Tree, and keep in mind that the freshness of a tree you just cut is greater than that of one from a retail lot. Trees from a Choose-and-Cut farm won't absorb as much water initially as other trees because it has not had time to dry out, unless you don't put it into a water holding stand right away.

For more information contact: Rick Dungey, 636/449-5071, dungey@realchristmastrees.org
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