It's time to do the most important job of the season %u2014 pick the perfect Christmas tree. Whether you put up a real or artificial tree...

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It's time to do the most important job of the season — pick the perfect Christmas tree.

Whether you put up a real or artificial tree, there are several key points to keep in mind when you shop for one, says Patti Price, vice president of merchandising for seasonal living at Lowe's (www.lowes.com).

Make room for the tree. Decide where the tree will go, and make sure that area is free of obstructions. If space is tight, consider a slim-line tree; with a 36-to 48-inch base, slim-lines are narrow and easy to decorate and fit into smaller, nontraditional rooms.

Resources

For more tips on choosing a tree and tree types, visit the National Christmas Tree Association at www.christmastree.org/home.cfm.

Permits for cutting a Christmas tree — for personal use only — from the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest are available for $10 through Dec. 22. For details, go to www.fs.fed.us/r6/mbs. Before heading out to cut down a tree, check road conditions. Heavy rains have washed out many forest roads.

The Post-Courier (Cherry Hill, N.J.), Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) and Seattle Times staff

If you prefer a real tree and live where floor space is limited, consider a tabletop one. A dwarf Alberta spruce makes a nice living Christmas tree and can be planted outdoors — at your home or maybe at a school or senior-citizen home.

Pick the right size. Trees can be 18 inches short or 12 feet tall — and everything in between. Again, consider lifestyle when selecting one. For a homeowner "on the go," trimming a 4-foot tree may prove to be festive and manageable.

Also, give thought to your ceiling height. Allow at least 1 foot between the top of the tree and the ceiling, which creates enough space for the tree topper. Remember, a tree always looks smaller outdoors; it magically "grows," quickly filling a room when you get it home.

Know your tree types. Because most artificial trees today mimic real ones, the tree type is equally important to consider for both artificial and live trees. Trees vary in coloration, needle style and shape, creating a look and feel to complement personal style and preference. Among some popular varieties are the Fraser, Scotch pine, Noble fir, Spruce and Douglas fir.

Safety tips

• For a real tree, make a fresh cut and put it in water as soon as possible. Keep adding water as needed.

• Keep the tree at least 3 feet from fireplaces, radiators, space heaters and other heat sources.

• Use lights and decorations with the UL seal, which means engineers have tested the product for potential fire and shock hazards.

• Inspect electrical decorations for cracked sockets and loose or bare wires before plugging them in. Replace damaged items.

• Don't overload extension cords.

• Turn off decorations before leaving home or going to bed.

Source: Underwriters Laboratories

The Post-Courier (Cherry Hill, N.J.)

Count the tips. Coverage refers to the density of the tree's branches. It is important to choose a tree that offers enough coverage to suit your personal taste, but that still provides enough space to decorate. A full tree offers little space for hanging and displaying ornaments. Pines are full and dense, while spruces are more open and airy-looking. A good gauge of fullness on an artificial tree is the "tip count." Generally, the more tips the tree has, the fuller it looks.

Light it right. For artificial prelighted trees, consider the tree's coverage and light placement. Using the "squint test," squint to reveal any holes or areas that are not properly lighted to determine whether it has the desired look and effect. When purchasing lights for live trees, measure the tree to determine how many lights it will require; a 100-light strand sounds like a lot, but you use more lights than you think when you start tucking them into the branches.

Miniature lights are ideal for live trees because they produce less heat and reduce the drying effect on the tree.

Dollar stretcher: For a brightly lit, energy-efficient tree, check out the LED technology in holiday lights. LED has been used in clocks and automobiles for years. The lights cost more but operate on 90 percent less electricity and can last up to 1,000 times longer than many heavy-duty mini lights, Price says. And, they burn much more brightly for indoor and outdoor use.