Pick the Perfect Christmas Tree

Finding a spectacular Christmas tree is a quest many of us embark on every year. But are you really a

Finding a spectacular Christmas tree is a quest many of us embark on every year. But are you really a savvy tree shopper?

Read on to learn how to choose the best tree for you, put it up straight without a struggle, and keep it fresh, fragrant, and hazard-free — plus, secrets to holiday cleanup and ornament storage.

Tree-Buying Tips
1. Before you go tree shopping, measure the height of the ceiling in the room where you will display your tree. You’ll want to choose a tree that is at least one foot shorter than the ceiling height (take a tape measure with you). Also, it’s best to measure the opening of your tree stand and make sure the base of your chosen tree will fit.

2. When selecting a tree, run your fingers along the needles and give the tree a shake. If the tree is fresh, the needles should be pliable and very few should fall off.

3. Make sure the base of the tree is straight and at least six inches long, so it will fit easily into the tree stand.

The Top Tree Types
According to David Stenger, manager of the National Christmas Tree Association and owner of Sinnissippi Forest, a choose-‘n’-cut tree farm in Oregon, Illinois, the following five Christmas-tree varieties have the best shape, lush branches, rich color and superior needle retention: balsam fir, Douglas fir, Fraser fir, noble fir and Scotch pine. If you’re having trouble locating the perfect tree, the National Christmas Tree Association can refer you to your local association for a list of tree farms in your area, as well as farms that specialize in living Christmas trees. Call 314-205-0944 or visit www.realchristmastrees.org.

Keeping Trees Fresh
Here’s how to maintain your tree’s fragrance and prevent mass needle fallout:

1. When you buy your tree, have an inch cut off the base to make it easier for the tree to take in water. (Be sure the cut is straight so the tree will stand up properly.)

2. If you don’t plan to put the tree up right away, place it in a bucket of warm water and stand it in an unheated garage or porch away from the wind and cold.

3. When you bring your tree inside, use a stand that holds at least one gallon of water.

4. Keep your tree well watered. Water prevents the needles from drying and dropping off and maintains the fragrance. Trees may use several quarts a day, so check the water level in the stand every few hours.

5. Never let the water level fall below the base of the tree or the cut end may seal over, preventing further water intake.

6. Don’t add anything to the water. Though some people swear that throwing in such extras as aspirin, soda water, bleach, salt, sugar, or Karo syrup keeps trees fresher longer, the experts say plain water, and plenty of it, is best.

Seven Safety Rules
This season, keep your home safe from some common Christmas-tree hazards by heeding these important tips from the National Safe Kids Campaign:
1. Never place your tree near a heat source, such as a fireplace or portable heater.

2. If you have small children or pets, trim the lower branches to avoid eye injuries.

3. Hang all ornaments that are breakable, have small, detachable parts or metal hooks, or that look like food or candy on higher branches where small children can’t reach them. Florist’s wire, which can be twisted firmly around branches, is a great way to hang fragile ornaments.

4. Keep pets out of the room in which the tree is placed, especially if you can’t be there to supervise. Cats are notorious for leaping onto Christmas trees, especially when pursued by another pet. Keep the tree from toppling by tying it to a ceiling hook. Both cats and dogs can knock down and break glass ornaments, then cut themselves on the pieces. Pets may also gnaw on electrical cords for Christmas-tree lights. Hide cords when possible, or help prevent injury by purchasing a pet-proof conduit, which will enclose cords and wires.

5. Avoid using artificial snow sprays, which can cause lung irritation if inhaled.

6. Turn off tree lights when you go to bed or leave the house. Use only UL-approved electrical decorations and extension cords, and check that no cords have frayed since you last used the lights.

7. Never burn Christmas-tree branches in your fireplace. It can cause the buildup of creosote, a highly flammable compound.

Taking Trees Down
The best way to avoid a major mess is to prepare to take your tree down before you even put it up. Just place a plastic tree bag (available at hardware stores) underneath the stand, which you can hide with a tree skirt. Then, when the holidays are done, pull the bag up around the tree, stand and all, and carry it outside. Remove the stand before recycling the tree. If some needles do scatter inside, sweep them up; needles can clog vacuum cleaners.

The Smart Way to Store Ornaments
Whether they’re heirlooms passed down to you or homemade treasures your kindergartner crafted, ornaments need to be stored with care to maintain their pristine condition for next Christmas. Here’s how:
1. Choose the correct container: The experts at Silvestri, a top manufacturer of holiday decorations, recommend storing ornaments in sturdy, partitioned cardboard boxes. You can buy these, but sectioned boxes, which you can get free from liquor stores, work just as well. Forgo plastic containers; they don’t allow air flow, so moisture can become trapped and damage the ornaments.

2. Wrap them right: Protect your ornaments before boxing them by wrapping them individually in acid-free tissue paper or 100 percent cotton cloth. Don’t overstuff the compartments or you’ll risk crushing the contents.

3. Find the ideal spot: Ornaments should be kept in a cool, dry place. Skip the attic (extreme temperatures can cause paint to flake) and the basement (dampness and mildew can cause irreparable damage). The best choice is an upper shelf in a closet where they can remain undisturbed until next December.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest