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Choosing & Decorating The Perfect Christmas Tree

Photo Christmas Tree Sarah Richardson

How to choose, decorate and care for your Christmas tree so that it lasts - whether it's a scotch pine or douglas fir.

Choosing a tree

There are many different types of Christmas trees to choose from. Many people are faithful to the kind they had growing up and may stay true to that variety year after year. Some may like a tight, cone-shaped tree while others prefer a natural, looser appearance. Here is a rundown of tree choices you’ll likely come across when shopping for one:

Scotch Pine

The most widely purchased Christmas tree variety is the Scotch Pine — a sturdy tree that holds its dark green needles for up to four weeks and will not drop them when dry. This tree will keep its fragrance throughout the season.

Blue Spruce

Another popular variety, the Blue Spruce is nicely symmetrical and is very good for needle retention. The needles are from 1-3" long and can vary in colour from powdery blue to dark green.

Balsam Fir

This variety has a more feathery appearance, with short, flat needles that are long lasting and quite aromatic. In the 1800s, Balsam was used like chewing gum.

Douglas Fir

This type also has long-lasting needles and a blue-green colour, but has a sweeter fragrance. The Douglas Fir has an exceptionally long lifespan with some living up to a thousand years.

Tree care

As soon as you get the tree home, cut about an inch off the end of the trunk and place the tree in a sturdy stand containing water. A good stand should hold at least 2 litres of water. The container should be filled to the top every couple of days to keep the tree watered and fresh. A tree that no longer “drinks” water is dried out.

Positioning the tree

Make sure the tree is pulled away from the wall before you start decorating. You should be able to walk around the tree to facilitate the process. Think about where you want to place the tree and where it will be viewed from. Avoid positioning it too closely to heat sources, such as fireplaces, radiators, ducts and televisions and try to place it clear of doors.

Light it up

Miniature lights are best for indoor trees as they produce less heat than larger ones and won’t dry out the tree as much. A good rule of thumb for decorating with lights is to have 50 to 75 lights per foot of tree. For example, if your tree is 6' tall, a minimum of 350 to 450 lights will yield a beautiful, bright tree. Lights are available with white or green cords and come in packages of 35, 50, 100 and 200. Make sure to test the strands before putting them on the tree for easier trouble-shooting. A fail-safe method of lighting is to secure the cord to the tree trunk first, leading up to the top of the tree. Starting from the top, work your way down, moving from the inner branch to the tip, wrapping the cord around the branch as you go. This will light the inside of the tree as well as the tips and really make the tree glow. Avoid being too generous or too sparse with the strands. Step back and have a look at your work from time to time, filling holes where needed.

Once your tree is lit, add the ornaments. Learn how to make your own ornaments in our Online TV segment for DIY Holiday Sconces & Ornaments, or browse our our photo gallery of Christmas trees for decorating ideas!

Post-holiday disposal

Most communities now offer Christmas tree recycling programs. Contact your local city hall to find out your town’s policy.

Tips

No matter which type you decide on, the most important thing to look for when buying a tree is to try to make sure that it is fresh. Here are a few additional tips:

  • Browning needles are a dead give-away for an older or unhealthy tree. Run a branch through your hand and if needles fall off, keep on looking. If you shake the tree a little, the needles should not drop off the tree, except for a few inner needles, which is normal.
  • The base of the tree should be at least 6" long and as straight as possible so it will fit into the stand properly.
  • Be sure to measure your room: Make sure the tree won’t be too tall for the space. Remember that it’s not necessary to buy a towering floor-to-ceiling tree. A smaller tree can be just as cheery and charming.
Photographer: 

Stacey Brandford

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