For many, a Christmas tree is the most important Christmas decoration.

Whatever your tastes there is a large variety of Christmas trees available, from traditional to contemporary,  highly decorated to quite plain. The biggest decision for many people, however,  is… real or fake?

In my family, I have traditionally leant towards a real tree. I grew up with one and it was a family tradition to choose and purchase the tree in early December each year. Whenever I smell a real tree it brings back the memories of my childhood Christmas. In recent years as technology has developed to the point of producing incredibly realistic faux trees, I have occasionaly been tempted by the artificial variety, however my obsession for the authentic always draws me back.

Of course, real Christmas trees require more planning and care than an artificial tree - they need to be purchased wisely, transported and cared for before being discarded thoughtfully after December 25.

Make sure you follow these tips before splurging on a live Christmas tree this year:

Measure the space

Before you go shopping or hunting for that "perfect tree," you'll need to decide where it will fit in your home. Once a spot is chosen be sure to measure the ceiling height and the width of that space. You will also need to measure your front door width and any other narrow spaces the tree needs to get through before you take it to the required space. 

Choosing the right real Christmas tree

You want a tree that offers some space between branches for decorations as well as sturdy branches tohold heavier ornaments. The tree looks better when ornaments hang straight. To test a tree, take an unbreakable ornament with you and hang it on several branches to see if there is room for it to hang straight.

How can you tell if a tree is fresh? The needles should look shiny, green, and fresh -- not dry or brown. They should not fall off when you pull on a branch. Once you are home, saw off at least 2cm from the bottom of the trunk so the tree will begin to soak up water immediately. Your tree should stand perfectly vertical. 

Securing the tree

There are all types of tree stands you can buy, but most people try to cobble together a heavy bucket or pot that will hold up the tree. The taller the tree, the bigger diameter of the trunk and the sturdier the stand needs to be. Australia doesn't have a wide variety of live tree stands on the market, but the best will have some water which the tree can absorb over the Christmas summer to keep it looking fresh. Place a plastic or other waterproof covering on the floor where your tree will stand so you don't ruin the carpet or get watermarks. If you have a very large tree or are worried about it tipping over, you could attach the tree stand to a large, flat piece of plywood to broaden the base of the tree, give it stability and further protect the floor.

How to care for your real Christmas tree

Live trees need to be replenished with water to keep them fresh and stop the leaves dropping off, in much the same way you need to keep cut flowers in vases of water. The trees tend to absorb more water in the first week or so after being cut. Place the real Christmas tree in a stand that can hold at least 4 litres of water. If the water drops below the trunk, the trunk may seal itself and not be able to absorb water. Place the tree away from sunlit windows, television sets and other heat sources as they will dry out your tree prematurely. If properly cared for your real Christmas tree should last at least 4-6 weeks before drying out and turning brown.