I need a new Christmas tree plan.
The last two years I put up an artificial tree in my apartment, and it instantly became a throne for my cats, Mittens and Tybalt. Mittens usually finds her way into the tree before I can get it out of the box.
So I’d been thinking about trying a real tree this year, mostly hoping that if I buy one that’s thick enough, it will keep those two furballs off, but also because the branches on my plastic tree now mostly droop to the floor.
As it turned out, I didn’t have a clue about buying a tree.
Boy Scout Troop 777, based in Grace Covenant Church in Cornelius, sets up a tree lot as their yearly fundraiser, donating 20 percent of proceeds to local charities and using the rest to help Scouts go to summer camps.
I figured it was as good a place as any to learn how to pick the perfect tree. I asked Bob Jones and Joel Galliher, the guys working the lot, for help.
“The first thing is to determine the area you want to fill,” said Jones, a Davidson Scout dad who was working the lot Sunday.
The trees are usually marked as 6-to-7-feet, 7-to-8-feet or 8-to-9 feet tall.
Joel Galliher, the troop’s incoming Scout master, said most ceilings are 8 feet high, but that doesn’t mean you should buy an 8-foot tree.
“Don’t forget: It’s going to be in a tree stand,” he said, which will make it taller. You’ll probably have a star or angel on top, too.
Make sure the tree will fit the stand before you snap up the thickest tree on the lot. Every stand is different, Galliher and Jones said, and it helps to know what you need before you buy the tree.
When you’re walking through the lot, there are some other things to look out for, too.
“Look at how full the tree is,” Jones said. “If you’ve got a lot of ornaments, you’ll want a fuller tree.”
A full tree? Yes, please.
Jones walked over to a tree during my visit, grabbed a branch about halfway down and pulled lightly.
“See, here, you don’t see any needles falling off,” he said. “If the needles fall off, the tree’s not fresh.” And if it isn’t fresh in the first week of December, it certainly won’t be fresh by Christmas Day.
Tommy Trimble, another Scout leader, is a good friend with the man who grows the troop’s trees.
“The key to caring for the tree is to first have a fresh tree. Most tree lots get trees that have been cut in early November,” Trimble said, while Troop 777’s trees were cut near the end of November.
“Once the tree gets to the home and into a stand, watering every day is a must,” he said.
Jones agreed, saying that it’s also important not to let the tree dry out.
“Once you’ve settled on a tree, cut off the bottom limbs and cut off about an inch of the trunk,” Jones said. Making that cut allows the tree to soak up water, but the tree will try to heal itself by filling the cut area with sap.
“You’ve got about an hour to get your tree home after it’s cut. Never let it dry out, because once you do it will never absorb water, and you’ll have to cut it again.
The team had a few other tips for wary tree hunters:
• Some trees might be short, but fat, so make sure you have an idea of the circumference, too.
• Trees look a lot shorter outside than they will in your living room.
• Put the star or angel on the tree before you stand it up.
• Keep pets away from the water if you’ve added any fertilizer or toxic additive.
I was just about sold, when I remembered why I came.
“Do you have any tips for keeping cats out of the tree?” I asked.
“Cats, particularly playful kittens, they’re going to get in the tree, and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Jones replied.
You win again, cats!
The last thing I need is a live tree – and its stand full of water – tumbling to the tile when Tybalt pretends to pose as the tree’s star.
Maybe I’ll get one next year when Mittens and Tybalt are older and fatter.