Trekking through the woods in crisp weather to choose and cut your own special Christmas tree is a time-honored holiday tradition.
If you want to add the cut-your-own Christmas tree custom to your seasonal festivities this year, here are eight tips to have a successful tree-hunting experience.
Tips for Choosing and Cutting Your Own Christmas Tree
Before you head out to cut your own Christmas tree, measure your space at home so you know how tall and wide your Christmas tree should be. Choose a tree about 12″ to 18″ shorter than your measurements to account for the tree stand and the top ornament.
Study the tree from every angle and pull on some needles to make sure it’s healthy – not drought-affected or on its way out. When you’re ready to cut, have someone hold the tree so it stays upright. Cut about 6″ above the ground.
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Hold your saw as horizontally as possible and make long, steady cuts back and forth. When the Christmas tree starts to lean, do NOT push it over. Continue to saw until you’ve completely severed the trunk.
We’ll run through the full details of the 8 steps for cutting your own Christmas tree below.
1. Research Your Christmas Tree Farm and Activity Options
There are thousands of choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms located throughout the U.S., which means you have plenty of options.
Do some research before you head to a Christmas tree farm to ensure the site you choose is open for business. Some Christmas tree farms are only open on the weekends or for limited weekday hours.
Smaller family operations may have closed their choose-and-cut operations despite having current business listings.
If you’re taking kids on your Christmas tree quest, or you want to make your trip a grownup fun day, check out the extra holiday amenities available for visitors to tree farms.
Some Christmas tree farms that are open to the public only grow and sell trees during the holidays and have no special attractions.
More elaborate Christmas tree farms offer holiday amenities including one or more of the following:
- Visits and pictures with Santa
- Sleigh rides, miniature trains, or hay rides
- Hot cocoa, sandwiches, and snacks
- Petting zoos
- Live reindeer
- Gift and ornament shops
- Kids’ play areas
- Holiday villages
- Ice skating rinks
- Holiday light displays
Many Christmas tree farms sell holiday wreaths and garlands made from the trimmings of their trees. Some farms offer paint-your-own ornament sessions, gingerbread-house-building activities, and other arts-and-crafts projects that make the season bright.
2. Obtain Proper Permits and Permission to Cut Your Own Christmas Tree
You don’t have to visit a commercial Christmas tree farm to pick out and cut your own holiday evergreen. If you own a large tract of woodland or know someone who does, you can find a tree on the land for free.
However, never trespass on private property to find a holiday tree, even if the land isn’t fenced or you can’t find the owner.
Always get permission from the landowner before you search for a tree on their property.
Alert the landowner to the time and date when you plan to visit their woodland because Christmas tree gathering season overlaps with hunting season in many states.
Dodging bullets while searching for the perfect tree isn’t a festive holiday activity!
If you insist on having an authentic, old-fashioned Christmas tree harvest, but you don’t know anyone who owns land or a wood lot, consider hunting for your tree on national forest land in your area.
You’re permitted to harvest Christmas trees and firewood for personal use in most national forests, but you do need the proper permits.
Look up the contact number or email address for the USDA National Forest District Office near your home.
The staff at the district office have the information you need concerning specific permits, dates, times, and tree-cutting rules in the national forest closest to you.
They’ll direct you to the district offices that have jurisdiction over more distant national forest properties if you ask.
Carry your permit with you the entire time you’re on national forest land. Bring an official USDA Forest Service map along to avoid getting lost and to stay within the designated tree-cutting areas.
You should receive a tree tag with your permit. Place the tag on your tree before you load it onto your vehicle.
3. Dress for the Weather and the Work
Learn the weather forecast for the time, location, and date of your Christmas tree adventure, and check the forecast again the day of your trip. Then, dress for the holiday activity in rugged clothes that are suitable for the outdoors.
Layer your outfit, so you can add or remove clothes if the day gets colder or warmer. Cutting down a tree doesn’t take a long time, but it’s hard, sweaty work while you’re doing it.
You may find that your winter jacket is too hot to wear for tree-cutting. After the tree is harvested, you’ll probably cool off quickly and put that jacket right back on to feel cozy again.
You and your companions should wear or bring the following wardrobe items for the cut-your-own tree visit:
- Durable hiking boots
- Several pairs of thick gloves for handling the tree
- Pants and shirts you don’t mind getting dirty
- Poncho or waterproof jacket for wet or misty days
- Extra outfit and dry socks in case of mishaps
- Warm hats, mittens, and scarves if the day is frigid
- Safety glasses to protect eyes while cutting
At Christmas tree farms, most of the pathways are mowed and groomed between the rows of trees.
During a tree-hunting visit on private land or in a national forest, your hike to find your tree won’t be as easy. You may have to struggle through briars and dense undergrowth to find your ideal tree. You may need to slog through creeks or muddy areas.
On private land or in the national forest, wear old clothes that are rip-proof, water-resistant, and insulated.
If you bring a clean change of clothes, you can afford to get as dirty as possible in the woods. Afterward, you’ll have dry, tidy clothes to wear for a nice meal or shopping.
4. Pick Out the Right Christmas Tree for Your Needs
Before you head out to harvest a fresh tree, carefully measure the height and width of the space where your Christmas tree will be on display.
Subtract around a foot to one-and-a-half feet off the height measurement to account for the height of the tree stand and the ornament that you place on the topmost branch. The final number should give you an accurate measure of the tree you need.
Bring along your tape measure to check out the trees you shop for. Choose a tree that stands around a foot taller than you need, since the tree will lose some height after being cut down.
Be sure to measure the width of the tree, too, so it fits in the space you measured back home.
Study trees from all angles to find a symmetrical tree with few bare spots. If you find a tree you love, but it has a bare spot, you can always hide the imperfection by placing the tree against a wall or in a corner.
Pull on some of the needles of each tree to see if the tree has suffered from drought or too-little watering. Cut-your-own trees should have supple needles that don’t drop easily.
It’s normal to have some dead needles in the innermost branches of evergreen trees.
5. Understand the Christmas Tree Cutting Process
Each cut-your-own tree farm has its own rules for cutting down the Christmas tree you select. For insurance purposes, you may be able to choose your tree but must let the farm staff fell the tree.
At most farms, they provide saws so the customer can have the thrilling experience of cutting their own tree. Many farms offer the option to cut your tree for you (a fee often applies).
The saw provided for your use on a cut-your-own tree farm is usually a handsaw called a bow saw. A bow saw has a rigid metal bow-like structure that you hold in your hand and a straight, toothed saw blade attached between the ends of the bow.
Here are the Steps to Cut Your Christmas Tree:
- Clear away debris and loose branches around the bottom of the trunk.
- Have someone else hold the tree by the middle of the trunk so it remains upright while you cut.
- Make a mark in the trunk with saw teeth or a pen, but be sure the mark is only around six inches above the ground.
- Aim the saw teeth so your cut is as horizontal as possible.
- Make long, steady cuts back and forth in the trunk where you made your mark.
- If your hand and arm get tired, take a momentary break and start again.
- When your saw is nearly through the trunk, the tree may start to lean. Don’t be tempted to push the tree over at this point, but continue sawing until you’ve completely severed the tree from its base.
If you cut your tree on private land, you can probably bring a small chainsaw to cut the trunk.
Chainsaws aren’t allowed on national forest land for tree-cutting by individuals, so you’ll need to bring your own bow saw or other hand saw to harvest your Christmas tree.
6. Check for Wildlife
Evergreen trees are lovely holiday decorations, but they’re also potential habitat for critters of all sorts.
Take a moment to carefully check your tree for spider webs, birds, mice, and other woodland residents before you cut, and before you load the tree and head home.
Commercial tree farms usually have shaking machines that rapidly vibrate the trees after the trees are cut. The fast vibration causes loose needles to drop off the tree, so they don’t end up all over your house.
Shaking also helps detach bugs and other creatures that are residing in the pines. Take advantage of the shaking service to avoid bringing home any unwelcome holiday guests.
If there’s no mechanical shaker on the farm, or you’re harvesting a tree from the woods, vigorously shake the tree yourself. Then, use a nearby stick, small tree bough, or your hat to gently beat on the tree and dislodge any stubborn creatures.
Take care not to break your Christmas tree’s branches as you evict any stubborn residents. Plus, if you’re like me, you’ll want to be careful anyway so you don’t hurt any critters.
7. Transport Your Tree Safely
You don’t want your freshly cut tree to fly off on the highway because the farm ran out of supplies, and your tree wasn’t secured adequately to your vehicle.
Whether you transport your tree on top of your car, in the trunk, or in the bed of a truck, take time to bind the tree with a few loops of twine around the tree body. Evergreens are easier to manage when you reduce the diameter of the branches.
At some Christmas tree farms, tree-baling services are offered. The staff will bind the tree for you either in special wrapping, a bag, or with string. Take advantage of the service if it’s offered.
When loading the tree on or into your vehicle, always move the tree in the direction of the cut end. This technique keeps wide and tender branches from breaking off as you drag or maneuver the tree.
Consider wearing your safety glasses as you position your tree on top of your car. If the tree slips, your eyes are protected from any wayward needles.
Attach the tree to your car with plenty of twine, rope, and bungee-cord reinforcement. Check the security of your knots and attachment points before you drive away. Make sure the tree doesn’t restrict your visibility through the windshield or rear window.
Drive carefully when transporting your tree. Stop a few minutes into your drive home to ensure the tree is secure and not sliding forward or backward. Take the time to reinforce the tree’s attachment points if necessary.
8. Care for Your Christmas Tree Throughout the Season
Let your freshly cut Christmas tree become accustomed to life at your place by keeping the tree in a bucket of water in an unheated garage or basement for a day or so.
Evergreens can be stressed by the move from a frosty tree row to a dry, heated home. A stressed-out tree drops needles fast and may dry out much quicker than a tree that has the chance to acclimate to a new environment.
As soon as your Christmas tree’s trunk was cut, the wound began hardening and closing the channels that take water from the roots to the tree’s foliage.
Before setting your tree in its stand, shave off a fresh inch or so at the cut part of the trunk, using a bow saw or other hand saw.
This action opens up sealed channels, so the tree can take up more water from its base to its branch tips.
Fill a few gallon jugs with water and place the containers in a convenient location, because your tree is going to need hydration.
How Much Water Does Your Christmas Tree Need
Fresh-cut trees can take up a gallon or more of water when first brought indoors!
Check the water in the tree stand at least twice a day, and refill the empty reservoir carefully using your gallon jugs.
Set your tree up in an area where there are no stoves, fireplaces, heating vents, or other heat sources. To be safe, use Christmas lights that feature LED bulbs or other cool-to-the-touch bulbs.
How Long Will Your Freshly Cut Christmas Tree Last?
If you keep your tree well-watered and away from any heat sources, your fresh-cut tree should last at least two to three weeks indoors before the needles begin to drop.
Always turn your tree’s lights off and unplug the light strings before heading to sleep or off to other holiday adventures.
Now, you know what to expect from a cut-your-own Christmas tree outing. Try the invigorating experience for yourself this year, and you may never go back to decorating a pre-cut or artificial tree again.
Show us pictures of your freshly cut Christmas tree in the comments below!