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Before you head out to the tree lot to bring that delicious Eau de Christmas aroma into your home, get the lowdown on how to pick out a healthy specimen and keep it alive.

1. Height

Jim Webber, president of the Christmas Tree Council of Nova Scotia, says it happens all too often: People buy trees that are too big for their homes.

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"It's a perception thing," says the tree grower from Lochaber, N.S. "They look smaller in the woods or on the lot than they do in the house, so measuring tape is a good thing to have."

If you discover that your measurements were off when it's too late, you can still make your oversized tree fit with a small saw or hand clippers, Mr. Webber advises.

Branches grow in rows called whirls, he explains. Bend the first whirl of branches down and clip them. You can keep trimming whirl-by-whirl from there. When you're done, saw down the trunk to the desired height.

How do I pick the right tree? What do I do once I get it home? It takes a lot of work before your Christmas tree looks festive and pretty in your living-room corner. Get some tips from tree expert Matthew Wright, executive director of the Christmas Tree Council of Nova Scotia, on Tuesday at 1 p.m.

Mr. Wright owns M. Wright Farm and Forest in New Germany, N.S., where he is an active cultivator, exporter and broker of Christmas trees in Canada and abroad. He is also involved in extensive Christmas tree improvement and research activity as part of the SMART Christmas Tree Research Co-operative at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College.

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2. Needles

Before you make the mistake of carting home a dehydrated tree, run the needle test, says Larry Downey, a Hatley, Que., grower who exports about 7,000 trees a year. If the tree is parched, the needles will likely snap in your fingers when you bend them.

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Needle colour is another good indicator of a tree's health, Mr. Downey says. Balsam Firs, the most popular type of tree sold over the holidays, hold their deep green shade for a few weeks after they've been cut if they have been well hydrated. That verdant hue fades quickly when they're not getting water.

"If it's light green or yellowish, find another tree," Mr. Downey says.

3. Trunk

If you buy a pre-cut tree that has been sitting outside for a few weeks, sap will have sealed off the bottom, Mr. Downey says. Without the ability to absorb water, the tree will dry up quickly and could drop its needles before Christmas rolls around.

After you pick your tree, ask the seller to saw off one centimetre from the bottom so the trunk can take up water.

4. Placement

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The most picturesque placement for your angel-topped fir may be beside the roaring fireplace, but that's also a great way to dry it out, Mr. Webber says.

He recommends placing it in a cool corner away from any heat source such as the fireplace, furnace and yes - even your TV.

Mr. Downey says that even with the best hydration, trees will drop needles when they're brought indoors. His trick for minimizing clean-up time when the tree comes down?

"We have a big, giant plastic bag and we put it at the base of the tree and then we can put the nice [tree skirt]on top," he says. He simply lifts up the bag, which has caught all the fallen needles, and carries it out for easy disposal.

Calling all tree masters Do you know where to find the perfect Christmas tree? Got any tips for keeping your fir fit? Share your holiday wisdom with fellow readers.

5. Stand

Fir trees are thirsty suckers, so make sure that, especially in the first few days after bringing yours inside, you regularly fill the stand with water - it can take up to two litres a day, Mr. Downey says.

And if you've heard old wives' tales about mixing household products with water to keep your tree healthy, you should ignore them, he adds.

"Some people, they put Aspirin or 7-Up, and none works. Just good warm water is all you need."

And don't do this:

Toss your tree in a dumpster when you're done with it. Take it to a drop-off site for recycling into mulch.


If you don't have room in your home for a majestic, three-metre-tall fir, it doesn't mean you have to skip having a tree altogether.

For just $9.86, you can purchase a replica Charlie Brown Christmas Tree from . It's the perfect size for a tabletop and channels all the feeble characteristics of the original: It's barely nine centimetres tall and, true to the 1965 TV special, its stubby branches hold a few scant clusters of needles. One metallic red ball is the sole ornament, and at its base is a reproduction of Linus's well-worn blanket.

The tree comes with a mini-edition of A Charlie Brown Christmas, the hopeful story behind the wretched little specimen of foliage. Good grief, that's a pathetic tree.

By the numbers

26: The height, in metres, of the world's largest Christmas tree last year. It was scouted by helicopter and installed in Edmonton's Sir Winston Churchill Square.

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