How to buy a real Christmas tree, put it up – and keep it fresh

Does Southern California have seasons of year? Angelenos would argue. There is earthquake season (tip: this is year-round). If we are lucky, some years we have a rainy season. And we have a fall season, although almost the only leaves that change color are palm fronds that catch fire.

And now, well into the sad early sunset time, we prepare to celebrate the holiday season. Golden State residents have a natural attraction to plants and glitter, so Southern Californians naturally love Christmas trees.

In 2020, The Times spoke to experts on how to buy a real Christmas tree. Here are some of the tips they shared and more on how to choose a tree and keep it cheerful and bright through the new year.

How much does a real Christmas tree cost?

According to a survey by the National Christmas Tree Assn., a trade group representing arborists and related businesses, the median price of a living Christmas tree in 2021 was $69.50. Expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $200 depending on where you buy your tree and what type and size of tree you want.

If you don’t already have a tree stand, you should also purchase one of these, either on the property with your tree or in advance. These cost an additional $20 to $100 depending on size and functionality. It’s also common to tip the worker who will help you mount your tree on top of your car.

You can buy your tree from a major retailer who will likely be on the cheaper side. But that’s because these trees tend to be of lower quality, Brandon Helfer said in a 2020 interview with The Times. He is the owner of Mr. Jingle’s Christmas Trees, which sells live trees at several locations in Southern California. Christmas tree lots like Mr. Jingle’s usually have nicer trees at a higher price.

Some Christmas tree items are cash only – if you don’t usually have cash on you, call before you go to make sure.

What size Christmas tree do I need?

In terms of tree height, you want your ceiling height minus at least a foot to allow room for the tree top. Don’t forget to measure the width of the space where the tree will be to make sure your chosen evergreen will fit.

How do I pick a real Christmas tree?

Ask a member of staff at the property what types of trees are available. Most California lots will have Douglas fir and silver fir growing on the west coast. Douglas firs are light green with fine needles and are generally cheaper and more fragrant. They are also known to not last as long and shed copious amounts of needles. Silver firs have thicker, blue-green, upward-growing needles and are more expensive; They keep their good spirits longer and require fewer sweeps, but aren’t as aggressively scented.

Before you buy, ask when the tree was felled. You either want a tree that has been felled recently or one that has been stored in the cold for preservation.

Once you’ve selected your strain and know the general size you’re looking for, it comes down to personal preference.

A few small considerations: If the tree is going to stand in a corner, only the half that you can see needs to look good. The more branches you have, the more ornaments and fairy lights you need to attach to them.

Remember that there is no such thing as perfection in nature: if you want a perfect looking tree, buy a fake. Part of the charm of a real tree is its authenticity; the wobbly needle pattern, the stray bald spot, the perky angle of the top branch. Like cats and dogs, all Christmas trees are good in their own way, and each deserves a loving – dare we say fir tree forever – home.

Once you’ve chosen your tree, ask for a tree shaker. It’s a device that shakes your tree vigorously, so any loose needles fall to the ground on the property, not in your living room. Not every place will have one. The property may offer to do a fresh cut of the trunk of your tree. If not, you’ll want to have a saw at home. In any case, leave at least 6 inches of trunk between the cut and the beginning of the branches. Some places offer to add flame retardants or artificial snow flocking.

Wherever you get your tree, it will have twine and someone willing to help you hoist your bounty onto the roof of your car and tie it down. Getting rid of an old towel or blanket first will protect your car, although it’s not necessary.

How do I set up my Christmas tree at home?

Once you have the tree and stand inside, it’s time to set it up. Some tree stands have a spike in the center for the tree to be impaled on; others use adjustable screws or fasteners to keep it upright.

Mac Harman, who sold live trees for nine years before founding artificial Christmas tree and decor site Balsam Hill, said in a 2020 interview that the optimal setup process requires three people: one to hold the tree, one to hold the tree crawling underneath adjust the stand and a third stands across the room to judge straightness. But you can get it working with just one or two.

How do I keep my Christmas tree fresh?

The key to a fresh, happy Christmas tree is to keep it hydrated. The water level in your stand of trees should always be two to three inches higher than the base of the trunk. Take care of your tree by checking the tank every day or two and adding water as needed. Trees absorb water during the day and release some of it at night. So don’t fill the basin completely or you risk a messy overflow. Like other houseplants, a tree will appreciate being sprayed, but use caution when mixing water with electric string lights.

Keeping your tree away from light sources, drafty air and flammable heat sources will keep it fresher.

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