How To Cut Your Own Tree

Snow on tree branches, kids laughing, tromping through leafless shrubs in search of the perfect tree—that’s what the weekend after Thanksgiving looks like for us.

Cutting down Christmas tree in Montana

Top, middle left, and bottom photos by Melynda Harrison. Middle right photo by Meggan Carrigg

A trip into snowy woods to cut down a Christmas tree has become a tradition in our family. Choosing a place, digging the sleds out of the shed, packing the hot cocoa and peanut butter and banana sandwiches, donning mittens and hats—it’s all part of the ritual that reminds us that the holiday season is here.

Christmas tree hunting in Montana

Top and middle photos by Meggan Carrigg; bottom photo by Melynda Harrison

While you can buy a tree at a lot, venturing into the woods for a fir or a spruce can be a rewarding way to spend a December day together. And the best part? You always come home with a prize.

Tree Hunting Collage #3B

Photos in this collage by Meggan Carrigg

If you choose to embark on a cut-your-own-tree adventure, here’s what you need to know:

  • Get a permit from the Forest Service. Some Ace Hardware stores, gas stations, and other shops also sell permits. They’re $5/tree and available in November & December. Limit three trees per household
  • Trees can be cut from anywhere on the National Forest except at campgrounds, Wilderness Areas, trailheads or in areas where trees have been planted for reforestation
  • Know how tall you want your tree to be before you go. In the forest, there isn’t a good reference point for height, so even a ten-foot tall tree looks short. We know that we want a tree about as tall as my husband
  • Choose a location that is open. Trees growing in groves often shed their lower branches; trees growing in the open have a more traditional Christmas tree shape. Ask Forest Service staff to suggest a meadow or clearing the distance from a trailhead that you want to hike or ski
  • Cut the tree 12 inches or less above the ground level. Remove snow around tree base if needed. Cut off live limbs remaining on the stump. You can always cut more off the bottom if needed; it’s poor tree-cutting etiquette to leave a tall stump
  • Use a tarp or sled to pull the tree back to your vehicle
  • When you get your tree home, make a fresh cut on the butt to open up the pores that have been clogged by sap. Cut off at least one-half inch. The fresh-cut surface should be creamy-white, not yellow or brown. If you do not make a fresh cut, the tree will not be able to drink water. Put the tree in water as soon as possible
  • Decorate and water daily to keep your tree fresh

Happy Tree Hunting!

Bonus Picture – Look at my strapping husband!

He Man Henry

Check out this cool tree hunting video Henry made:

Photos & video in this post courtesy of:
Melynda Harrison
Meggan Carrigg Davidson
Henry Harrison/Reel Action Video

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