11/28/2011 09:28 am ET Updated Oct 11, 2012

The Sprout Home Guide To Christmas Tree Shopping

Q: I've never had a Christmas tree before but I think I will try one this year. Is there such a thing as a 'sustainably' cut Christmas tree?

A: You can always ask where the trees have come from and if they were sustainably harvested. One acre of Christmas trees produces the daily oxygen requirement for 18 people and legit tree farms will plant multiple seedlings in the place of each harvested tree. A cut tree is also biodegradable -- it can be chipped into mulch or compost at the end of the holiday season. If you do not have access to a wood chipper many cities have an organized recycling program. For instance, Chicago has a wood chipping program that rotates amongst its city parks every couple of days in order for you to recycle your tree.

Q: Is there a difference if I buy it now or later?
A: Smaller tree lots will normally get only one load in for the season while larger shops might get more than one load. Ask the prospective tree lot if they are getting in multiple loads and if not, it might be better to buy early. The longer they sit outside they are at risk for more sun exposure, which could dry them out at a faster rate.

Q: How do I make sure I get the shape of tree that I want? I see that most of the trees are still bundled.
A: Some lots will keep a majority of them bundled in order to conserve more moisture but it is hard to see the shape when they are unopened. Ask if the tree had been sheared at the farm or if it is natural. If it had been sheared the grower had previously cut the limbs that were stretching outside of the tree's A-line shape to make the shape well rounded. And un-sheared tree has been left in its natural state with no pruning.

Q: Should the tree be prepared in any certain way before I take it home?
A: Make sure that the tree gets a fresh cut by about 2" on the stump. By giving the tree a fresh cut it opens the tree back up to be able to drink and take in water. If you have pre-selected your tree to be picked up at a later date, make sure that the stump is not cut until you pick it up. You will want to remove the bottom couple inches of branches as well, just enough to clear the stand.

Q: When I get it home what can I do to prolong its freshness? I am so scared it will go dry before the holidays.
A: Get your tree in water as soon as you get it home. It will drink fast the first couple of days, never let the stand go empty. If you have a couple of different spots where you are deciding to place your tree select the location out of the direct sun and heat. Sunlight, fireplaces and forced hot air can cause the needles to dry out faster.

Happy tree hunting!

Front Page Photo by Tara Heibel of Sprout Home.