Everything You Need to Know About Decorating Your Christmas Tree

From picking the perfect tree to decking it out, ensure your holiday centerpiece shines in more ways than one

Everything You Need to Know About Decorating Your Christmas Tree

Sorry, Santa, but the real star of the season might just be the tree. It simply doesn't feel like Christmastime until you've selected, put up and decked out that all-important evergreen. This guide has advice to help you with each step of the process and tips on keeping your tree looking beautiful until the big guy arrives--and beyond.

Choose an evergreen

Before you hop in the car, find out how to spot a winner at the tree farm or lot.

Don't buy too early.  Shop for a tree no earlier than three weeks before Christmas--that's the maximum length of time a just-cut evergreen can stay fresh indoors. For a list of retailers in your area, visit christmastree.org, click "Go" under "Find My Christmas Tree" and enter your zip code. Before you go shopping, learn more about the most common varieties.

Get out your yardstick. Determine what size tree to get before you leave home. Choose a spot that isn't in direct sunlight or near a heat source. Measure the height and width of the area. A 6- or 7-foot tree is a good bet for 8-foot ceilings, but remember to take into account the height of the decoration you plan to put on top as well as the height that the tree stand will add. Christmas trees are typically trimmed to an 8- percent taper. Translation: If you choose a 6-footer, you'll need almost 5 feet of space to accommodate the width at the base of the tree.

Ensure it will last. The freshest possible tree is one you chop down yourself at a nearby choose-your-own farm. If you prefer to buy a precut tree, ask the retailer when shipments come in and plan your trip accordingly. Avoid trees that have been sitting in the sun, which can dry them out. To test for freshness, gently grasp a branch and pull it toward you; very few needles should fall off. Then bend a  few branches, if they snap easily the tree is probably too dry. Other signs that you should move on: a lot of brown needles, a musty odor and wrinkled bark.

Inspect it carefully. Look for a tree that is uniformly full on all sides and has a straight trunk that will fit easily in a stand. When selecting a precut tree, have the salesperson trim half an inch off the trunk. That helps the tree to take up water when placed in a stand at home.

NEXT: How to Prep the Tree