Buying the perfect Christmas tree and keeping it green and fresh until Santa arrives is a crucial holiday responsibility, and it requires daily care.
But it really isn’t that tricky if you can keep track of a few really important details, such as:
- How to tell if a tree is fresh before you take it home
- What kind of tree your brought home, and how long they normally last
- How to keep it from drying out (hint: keep that tree watered and out of the sun)
Below, I’ve got you covered with this guide plus how you can save your time and money in the process.
1. Know the six best types of live Christmas trees.
When looking for a tree, Christmas tree experts consider the following six types to have the best shape, branches, color, and superior needle retention:
- Balsam fir: If you’re looking to fill your home with Christmas-tree scent, this one’s for you. Grown in the northeastern states.
- Fraser fir: Like balsam firs, the Fraser firs have upturned branches. They also retain their needles longer than other trees. Grown in the Southern states.
- Noble fir: With strong limbs, expect this tree to hold heavy ornaments and have silvery-green needles. Grown in the Pacific Northwest.
- Douglas fir: One of the lighter Christmas tree varieties, this guy will be easy to transport home. Grown in the Pacific Northwest.
- Scotch Pine: Bushy, dense foliage characterizes this pine, which has a bright-green to bluish color. Grown in the eastern states.
- Turkish Pine: Strong limbs, looks just like a Noble fir with two-tone needles that are dark green on top, silvery underneath. Fairly new species grown in Oregon.
Fir trees tend to have softer needles than pine trees, which makes the former perfect for folks who, like me, hate when you get stabbed by your Christmas tree while hanging up ornaments. Give me a mellow tree, please.
2. For the freshest cut trees, buy from local Christmas tree farms (if you can).
Minimize your mileage and the impact of transporting a tree a long way from home.
Going local also guarantees a more freshly cut tree where the needles will last longer, especially if you cut the tree down yourself instead of buying one that was already cut.
Go to PickYourOwnChristmasTree.org to find a farm or lot near you.
3. The longest-lasting Christmas tree to buy during Black Friday: Fraser firs.
Christmas Eve is exactly four weeks after Black Friday, so it takes a bit of planning to make sure your tree stays fresh through the holidays.
Assuming the trees are properly cared for, the tree lot owners I spoke with said most of the trees we listed above will hold their needles for three to four weeks. But Fraser firs are known to hold their needles for as long as five weeks.
That means Fraser firs are a safe buy if you go Christmas tree shopping early in the season. Spruces, on the other hand, tend to shed their needles after only two weeks, so you’ll want to buy these trees much closer to Christmas.
4. Get free Christmas tree delivery from Lowe’s, Walmart, Amazon, & Home Depot.
Delivery takes two to five days (Home Depot claims it will fulfill orders in only two days), and all of these retailers give you the chance to examine your tree when they drop it off. If you don’t like it, you can either return it for a refund or exchange it for another tree.
Employees I spoke with from each store said we shouldn’t expect discounts on live Christmas trees. But if you’re eligible for any military, student, or senior discounts, those will still apply at Lowe’s and Home Depot.
5. Buy your tree a week before Christmas for 15 – 60% savings.
If you want discounted Christmas trees, what matters most is when you shop, not where. The Christmas tree farm owners I spoke with all said the best time to buy is during the week leading up to Christmas.
There was much less consensus, though, when it came to the kinds of discounts we should expect to see. I heard that sales would range from 15 – 60% off a tree’s regular price.
Look for slightly damaged trees, or ask a retailer if they’ll give you a discount on a tree that’s been outside for a while. Get creative. Think about how much damage you can hide with some strategically placed garland or by placing your tree in a corner.
6. Spend only $10 and cut down your own tree in a national forest.
This is far and away the cheapest way to get a fresh Christmas tree. The U.S. Forest Service lets you cut your own tree for free, but you must have a permit, which typically costs about $10.
7. Shop Walmart for the best selection on potted Christmas trees.
If you like a tree that never dies but don’t want a fake one, then buying a potted Christmas tree is a fine way to go. Just make sure to get a tree suited for the climate and conditions of where you live by contacting your local garden center.
The Alberta Spruces will grow as tall as six feet, but the Blue Point Junipers can reach as high as twelve feet.
If you buy a small enough potted tree, you can reuse it for another one to two years before replanting it in a larger pot to use for several more years.
8. Your local Costco (probably) isn’t selling live Christmas trees in 2021.
Costco Christmas trees have become something of a legend thanks to Reddit posts that showed folks returning live, clearly used trees the day after Christmas — showing the boundless generosity of Costco Returns.
Costco employees told me they will not be selling live trees in 2021 — score one for the Costco returns counter workers. But we’ve actually had some luck finding live Christmas trees at Costcos in the Pacific Northwest. It’s worth calling to find out if your local store has some, especially if you live in a state known for producing Christmas trees.
9. Check the branches before buying a Christmas tree.
Do a freshness test by gently grabbing a branch between your thumb and forefinger and pulling it toward you. If the tree is fresh, very few needles (if any) should come off in your hand.
10. Look for Christmas tree stands that will keep your tree straight and hydrated.
A tree stand serves three purposes: to help a tree stay hydrated, to hold the tree up, and to keep it straight.
Your tree stand should have a heavy enough base to hold the tree’s center of gravity so it stays balanced, and an opening wide enough for the trunk’s diameter. The most important thing is that you always keep it filled with water.
If you buy a sturdy stand, you should be able to reuse it. At Home Depot, which sells this 8-foot tree stand for $19.78, they’ll level your tree and put it on your stand for you, free of charge.
11. Have an attendant saw an inch off your Christmas tree’s trunk.
This gives you a fresher tree and helps with water absorption by taking off any sap that has begun to seal the bottom of the trunk. You can also re-cut the trunk yourself when you get home.
12. Wrap your Christmas tree in netting or a blanket for the ride home.
Many times, trees are sold in netting, but if not, wrap your tree in a blanket to preserve the branches. The blanket will also keep the wind from drying the tree out.
13. Carry your Christmas tree into the house base first.
When you bring a tree inside top first, you risk the branches fanning out, catching on doorways, and breaking off. Trunk first, the branches simply compress in their natural direction when passing through doorways, keeping the tree intact.
14. Submerge your Christmas tree’s trunk in water as soon as you get home.
If you can’t do this and the cut tree has gone six to eight hours without water, it’s best to make another cut an inch or so off the end. Otherwise, sap can start to seal the original cut, preventing the tree from taking up water and drying out sooner than it should.
15. Place your Christmas tree away from vents, heaters, and south-facing windows.
Heat sources, open windows, and direct sunlight all contribute to drying out your tree, and it can happen fast. South-facing windows get the most sunlight, so those are the windows you should try to avoid the most.
Keep your tree in a comfortable and moderate indoor climate to help it thrive throughout the season.
16. Use regular tap water to keep your Christmas tree hydrated.
Despite a variety of tips out there about soaking a tree trunk in bleach, warm water, crushed-aspirin solution, or a hot water and sugar mixture, experts say plain water is the way to go.
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, research shows plain tap water is best.
TIP: I found this little device from Amazon that monitors the water level of your tree stand. It plays Jingle Bells whenever the water level gets too low, so you always know when to change your tree’s water.
17. Decorate your Christmas tree with LED lights to keep the needles fresh.
Ditch the colored incandescent bulbs. The bigger the lights, the quicker the needles dry out.
18. Turn your Christmas tree into a New Year’s tree.
If your tree is still looking fresh after Christmas, turn it into a New Year’s tree! Hang balloons, streamers, toys, or hand-written wishes for the new year.
19. Or purchase an artificial Christmas tree around Black Friday for $25 – $186.
Black Friday is an awesome time to buy artificial Christmas trees, and we’ve been monitoring which retailers offer the best prices for any size tree.
- The best deal on a 5-Foot and under Christmas tree is $24.98 for the 4-Foot Unlit Holiday Living Cashmere Tree at Lowe’s.
- The best deal on a 6-Foot Christmas tree is $22 for the Holiday Time Non-Lit Wesley Pine Artificial Christmas Tree at Walmart.
- The best deal on a 6.5-Foot Christmas tree is $99 for the Holiday Living Fairmont Pine Pre-lit Christmas Tree at Lowe’s.
- The best deal on a 7-Foot Christmas tree is $71.25 for the 7-Foot Wondershop Unlit Artificial Christmas Tree at Target.
- The best deal on a 7.5-Foot Christmas tree is $77.89 for the Costway Snow-Flocked Pencil Christmas Tree with Pine Cones at Target.
- The best deal on an 8-Foot Christmas tree is $174.79 for the Costway 8-Foot Snow Flocked Christmas Pencil Tree with Berries and Flowers at Target.
- The best deal on a 9-Foot Christmas tree is $185.99 for the 9-Foot Costway Hinged Douglas Fir Christmas Tree at Target.
The best way to store artificial trees is in a bag — not a box. The latter breaks down faster, which means it’s easier for mice and other pests to get in and snack on your Christmas tree.
Let us know how you like to take care of your Christmas tree in the comments below. Thanks for reading!