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Complete Tips for Setting Up Your Christmas Tree

Updated on September 25, 2013

The White House is full of Christmas trees in December!

This is one of the magnificant trees in the White House.
This is one of the magnificant trees in the White House. | Source

Prepare for your Christmas tree before you choose it

Where will it stand in your home?

The place you choose for setting up your tree should be away from any heating elements and away from the fireplace for fire safety. It should also be away from ventilation shafts, as that can cause the tree to dry out faster. If you'll have candles during the holidays, be sure none will be close to the tree.

If this is the first time you're setting up a Christmas tree in your home, you'll want to measure the height and width of your space before choosing a tree. You don't want the tree to be too high or too big around to fit well in your chosen space.

Are your tools handy and tree lights in good shape?

Before you buy your tree, make sure that you have everything you need to set it up. Did anyone borrow your tree saw and not return it? Or do you need to borrow one from somebody else? Do you have yard clippers handy in case you need to prune small branches?

Make sure that your tree stand is in good repair. If you plan on a much larger tree this year, you may need a sturdier and/or bigger stand.

Plug in the lights you plan to use - make sure they all work. Did you know that LED lights don't create as much heat, which dries out the tree? If you need to replace any strings or want to use less electricity this year, consider buying LED lights. (Be aware that if you only need to replace one or two of several strings, the LED lights shine brighter than the incandescent bulbs.)

If your tree will be placed in the middle of an open space, such as a large living room, will there be pets or children during the holidays? If so, you might consider putting a hook in the ceiling and stringing a wire from it to the top of the tree. That will protect it from tipping over if any of them run into it. (When my cat was a kitten, she climbed the Christmas tree several times that year!)

Do you have a tree skirt and is it in good condition. Check it before you need it. (If you don't have a tree skirt, an inexpensive alternative is yardage of netting from a fabric store. It's usually about $1.50 a yard, and can even be sparkly.)

Will you be tying your tree to the top of your car? If so, you'll need cord or rope.

The size of your tree is a very individual thing, depending on space and your preferences. I normally buy a 7-foot tree. However, when I lived in an apartment in New York, I used to buy a four-foot tree, take it home on the subway and put it on a table for extra height. (This also works if you have small dogs and toddlers running around.) My best friend and her husband buy an 18-foot tree for their home. After they choose their tree, it's cut and delivered for them. Most people buy a tree that's between 5 and 10 feet tall, depending on the space and the height of the ceilings.

Setting up your Christmas tree - tools you will need

Garden shears and tree saw - If you've chosen a tree that has branches close to the bottom that weren't removed when you bought the tree, you'll need to cut a few of the branches off so the tree can be clamped securely in the tree stand and so you can get under it to keep it watered. If cutting branches is necessary, then you'll want garden clippers or a tree saw. If you have lopers, they can sometimes be used to chop off the lower branches. If not, and the lower tree branches are too big for your garden shears, a tree saw will work just as well.

The tree saw will also be needed to cut about an inch off the bottom of your tree for water absorption. This step is very important.

You'll also want:

- a tree stand that has a large water reservoir - a 6-foot tree can drink about a gallon of water a day. A good tree stand is something you'll use for years, so it makes sense to buy one that is steady, substantial and that has a large water reservoir. Choosing a stand that has four clamps or screws on it makes for better tree adjustment in the stand. Also a full round base, or one that has four legs is better than three legs for steadiness. You also want it to have a little weight so your tree won't be too top heavy.

- a tree skirt to cover the stand and to add to the festivities. If you don't have one, some yardage of sparkly netting from the fabric store is inexpensive and will also do in a pinch.

- a large old sheet to wrap your tree in before you take it into the house. This will catch any loose needles as you're carrying the tree inside. (When you're ready to carry the tree out again, wrap it up in the old sheet again. It'll lose a lot more needles.)

Everyone is ready for setting up the Christmas tree

Are these two little ones ready for that Christmas tree to be decorated? This was in 1964 Amsterdam.
Are these two little ones ready for that Christmas tree to be decorated? This was in 1964 Amsterdam. | Source

Choosing your Christmas Tree

Now it's time to go out and find your special Christmas tree!

Make sure that you choose a tree with a straight trunk and only one top. Sometimes on the tree farms, pruning can cause a tree to have a branched top.

Choose a tree that is as fresh as possible. If you can't go to a tree farm for a freshly cut tree, the best bet is to find a tree lot that is busy, because they will receive trees more than once during the holidays. A tree that's too dry is the biggest holiday fire hazard you can have.

If you have the choice of going to a tree farm, you can't get any fresher than that. (If you choose a tree farm, dress warmly with footwear that can handle snow or mud, depending on where you live.) After the tree is cut and before it's wrapped, if the staff doesn't stand it up and thump the bottom of the trunk on the ground a few times to remove any lose needles and dust, ask one of them do that before they wrap it in mesh. You certainly wouldn't need that for a freshness test, but it will still save any messes. (If the tree is too close to the ground for watering after you've put it in a tree stand, tree farms will also usually lop off some lower branches at your request.)

If you buy from Christmas a tree lot or a nursery, check the cut bottom of the trunk. If it's not sticky, the tree was cut some time ago. Pass it by. (If the trees are each in a container of water, this is the place to buy your tree!)

Hold a small branch loosely in your closed hand and run it through your fingers. Needles should not pull off easily.

Needles should be flexible. Check to see if a needle snaps in half if you slightly bend it. If so, the tree is not fresh.

If the tree is wrapped in mesh, ask that the mesh be removed. Then hold the tree upright by the trunk and thump the bottom of the trunk soundly a few times on the ground, or have your salesperson do it. This will show you whether or not a lot of needles easily drop. If they do, the tree is too dry. even if the tree is fresh, thumping the trunk on the ground will remove the small amount of loose needles and dust that may be on the branches.

You will also want the mesh removed so that you can check the fullness of the tree. It may be too big around for your space or have undesirable open spots.

If you plan to have your tree in a corner or up against a wall, don't pass by a tree that's good on one side but not the other. You may get a discount on that tree, and it would serve your purpose against a wall just as well as a perfectly-shaped tree

If you choose a tree that has a good amount of trunk at the bottom, and doesn't need any lower branches cut, when you get home, you'll have less work getting the tree ready for the tree stand. If you bought the tree at a tree farm and it was wrapped in mesh so you could take it home easily, if you've chosen one with a longer trunk, you only have one more step to do before bringing it into your home.

If you plan to leave your tree outside for a day or so, lean it up against a wall with the trunk in a bucket of water.

How to choose a fresh Christmas tree

A little extra step for loved ones with allergies

If you have family members or plan to have visitors that suffer from allergies, you can take the extra step of rinsing your tree off with a spray nozzle and thumping it as you did before to shake water out of the branches. Then leave the tree outside or in a carport or garage overnight to dry. Spraying the tree will remove most of the mold spores that Christmas trees commonly have on them. These spores normally don't ripen in the coolness of a tree farm until Spring. In your warm home, though, the spores can ripen in about two or three weeks, and cause allergic reactions.

To keep allergies down that are associated with scent and tree oils, you can keep the temperature down in the room where the Christmas tree is located when the room isn't in use. When you turn up the heat to occupy the room, it will take a while for the tree to warm up, so the scent won't be as intense as it would have been if the room had remained heated.

Setting up your Christmas tree - getting it ready and taking it indoors

If your tree hasn't been stood up and the bottom of the trunk thumped soundly on the ground a few times, do that before it's taken into your home.

Just before you take the tree inside, cut about 1/2 - 1 inch off the bottom of the tree trunk with the tree saw. Even if you've just brought your tree home from a tree farm, sap seals the bottom of the cut trunk. The new cut will expose a fresh end so it will absorb water again. If that will make the tree too close to the floor to water it, also cut a few of the lowest branches off until you will be able to get a watering container under the tree when it's clamped into the stand. When you're removing any lower branches, be sure to take into consideration the depth of your tree stand and the gap you'll want between the tree stand and the bottom of the tree for your watering container.

Before moving your tree indoors, place your tree stand in a spot that's convenient to the final placement of the tree, but will also allow you to move around the tree to tighten the tree stand clamps after you've put the tree in the stand.

If your tree isn't wrapped, wrap an old sheet around it to bring it into your home. That will save clean-up between the door and wherever the tree is to be set up.

Set your tree up in the stand. Especially if your tree is a large one, this works best with two people, one to set the tree up make adjustments on the stand clamps and one to spot whether or not the tree is standing at an angle. (Some tree stands can swivel to accommodate a tree that isn't standing perfectly straight.)

If your tree will stand in a more confined space, like a corner, you will want to string the lights and any garland on it and probably also add the tree topper before you move it into its final position. After it's moved, decorating it with the ornaments will be much easier.

Place an unopened plastic garbage bag or other piece of plastic under the spot where your tree will stand in case of water spills, to save the floor or carpet.

Move the tree into place. Then cover the plastic and the tree stand with the tree skirt. Be sure that you have safely accounted for the tree light plugs and any extension cords. (Don't cover those; it's a fire hazard.)

Now water your tree before you add ornaments. Check your Christmas tree daily to make sure that the bottom of the trunk is immersed at all times. (You can also throw a penny or two in the bottom of the water reservoir. The copper on the pennies act as a fungicide.)

How to set up a real Christmas tree


Christmas tree preservative recipes

You can increase the time your tree remains fresh. Here are a couple of recipes for tree preservative.

Prepare the water for your Christmas tree by adding a can of any lemon-lime soda (not sugar-free) to each gallon of water. Then add 4 teaspoons of bleach to the water. (I put a labeled squeeze bottle of bleach handy during the holidays for this purpose.) This recipe will keep your tree fed with sugar and will keep the water free of mold and bacteria.

I keep my tree up for about three weeks, and I swear by the recipe above.

Instead of the mixture above, some people dissolve a few aspirin in water and add sugar to it. The mixture is 4 teaspoons of sugar and 4 aspirin per one gallon of water.

When you're ready to decorate the tree with ornaments, some eggnog or hot apple cider, cookies and maybe some homemade candy for the kids make this even more fun. Put on the Christmas music, and you have the makings of a grand and lovely evening!



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