Base your shopping around the fact that trees will remain fresh for three to four weeks. The website for the National Christmas Tree Association, realchristmastrees.org, has a search engine that can find you any species in any state.
Do a freshness test on the trees. Gently grasp a branch between your thumb and forefinger and pull it toward you. If the tree is fresh then just a few needles should come off. Green needles on fresh trees break crisply when bent sharply with the fingers, similar to a fresh carrot. Look for other indicators of dryness or deterioration: excessive needle loss, discolored foliage, musty odor, needle pliability, and wrinkled bark.
Make a fresh cut to remove about a 1/2-inch-thick disc of wood from the base of the trunk before putting the tree in the stand. Make the cut perpendicular to the stem axis. Don't cut the trunk at an angle, or into a V-shape, which makes it far more difficult to hold the tree in the stand and also reduces the amount of water available to the tree. Next step is to place the tree in a stand.
Place the tree in water as soon as possible. Most species can go six to eight hours after cutting the trunk and still take up water. Don't bruise the cut surface or get it dirty.
As a general rule, stands should provide 1 quart of water per inch of stem diameter. Check the stand daily to make sure the level of water does not go below the base of the tree.
Clean up your freshly cut tree with a little bit of judicious pruning. Stand the tree upright, and study it from a distance to see which areas need pruning. Prune small growths that jut straight out from the top and bottom of the branches.
This technique will play up the depth of the tree better than draping lights only around the perimeter, while also concealing the wires. Starting at the bottom bough, string lights along the underside of each branch. When you get near the end, loop lights around the top of the branch. Work back to the tree trunk, winding around branch and light strand. Continue around the tree. Reverse the procedure on upper branches (or those above eye level of an average adult), stringing lights first along the top, then back around bottom.
This picture was taken by Jordan. He enjoyed stepping behind the camera to capture some pictures of our tree shopping day.
When we arrived at the tree farm we were greeted with a smile and a saw. This never changes. For the past few years, my oldest son, Jordan, has been the family lumberjack. He works hard, grunting, cutting back and forth with a fervent purpose. Jordan always takes pride in taking down our family Douglas Fir.