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Tips for buying a real Christmas tree

Jacob Pelletier, Inventory Manager at Hicks Nursery in

Jacob Pelletier, Inventory Manager at Hicks Nursery in Westbury, shoulders a fresh Christmas tree. (Dec. 1, 2011) Credit: Newsday/Rebecca Cooney

A fresh-cut Norwegian Spruce will once again tower over RXR Plaza in Uniondale during the holiday season. If that gargantuan greenery inspires you to set up your own real tree and retire the plastic one -- get ready for a learning curve.

"Most trees grown today are not the same as 30 years ago," says Doug Akerley, vice president of Hicks Nurseries in Westbury. Today's trees are heavier and trunks are much wider, requiring a heavy gauge metal stand, he explains.

About half a dozen different species of evergreens are sold as Christmas trees at corner lots, nurseries and tree farms all over Long Island, says Alexis Alvey, nursery and landscape specialist at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County in Riverhead. You can buy a tree already cut or pick out one growing at a handful of Suffolk County tree farms.

Before you go

RESEARCH Alvey recommends going online to learn about the kinds of trees available. At the Missouri Botanical Gardens plant finder website, Missouribo, you can search for the species by its common name (Douglas-fir, for instance). You'll find a photo and basic facts.

MEASURE You'll need the floor-to-ceiling height of the room where the tree will be displayed.

Choosing your tree

At the 20-acre Shamrock Christmas Tree Farm in Mattituck, you can select your tree in the field, then pitch in with the sawing, though it's apparently not such a pleasant task. "If people want to get down in the mud and cut the tree, they can do it," says Shamrock owner Joseph P. Shipman. His "field" trees cost $65 and pre-cut Fraser Firs from Pennsylvania go for between $45 and $95.

Frank Todrick, 56, and his wife, Nancy, 54, of Mattituck, have bought a Christmas tree from Shamrock for the past 16 years. He goes tree shopping with his three grown children and two grandchildren. "You can really appreciate the Christmas spirit that's there, with all the excitement of the kids walking around and trying to pick out the tree for the house," he says.

Making it last

When taking the tree home, avoid tying it to the roof of the car, which Shipman says can cause wind damage as you drive. Instead, load it inside an SUV or on the bed of a pickup truck.

At home, the tree should be stored standing in a bucket of water. Put it in a cool area inside or outside but out of the wind. A fresh-cut tree can drink a half-gallon or more of water a day, so keep refilling the water.

Plus: Christmas tree varieties

Here are some of the most popular Christmas tree varieties available on Long Island this holiday season, with notes from Shamrock Christmas Tree Farm owner Joseph P. Shipman and Doug Akerley, vice president of Hicks Nurseries in Westbury.

BALSAM FIR Considered "The Cadillac" of traditional Christmas trees, it's dense with inch-long shiny needles and the most fragrant tree on the lot. However, the balsam fir isn't available for local cutting because it mostly grows in the mountains of Quebec and Nova Scotia.

FRASER FIR Akerley calls it "the nicest of all the cut trees because it's quite fragrant." Similar to a balsam fir, it has stiff branches, which are optimum for hanging heavy ornaments. Its needles are deep green on top with a white stripe on their underside. "Needle retention is superior," Akerley says. "Everyone wants Fraser because the needle retention is so good," Shipman agrees.

DOUGLAS-FIR This variety has soft needles in deep green and bluish hues that trees retain quite well. The downside: Branches can't handle heavy ornaments. "The branches tend to sag if you have heavy ornaments on them," Akerley says. Instead, Hicks recommends Douglas firs be decorated with ribbons and bows.

COLORADO BLUE SPRUCE Virtually fragrance-free, the blue spruce's bluish needles are hard and sharp, which can make decorating the tree more of a challenge. Still, it's a popular landscape tree that can be bought live, displayed in its holder during the holidays, then planted in the yard.

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