Operation Christmas tree
Jan Ziegler can spot the veterans by their measuring tapes. "The first year, people pick a tree that's too tall," said Ziegler, who owns Ziegler Christmas Tree Farm in Elgin. "They look smaller in the field. So the next year, they measure."

In addition to bringing a measuring tape, Ziegler has a few other suggestions for folks venturing out to farms to cut down their own Christmas trees.

Bring a saw, because not every farm provides them, Ziegler said, and even those that do may not have sharp ones. "You need to have one anyway when you get the tree home," she said. "And please do not bring a chain saw; that's too dangerous." Bring rope or twine to secure the tree to your car, although many farms do provide them. Use a blanket, sheet or tarp to protect your car.

When you get the tree home, get out the saw, she says, and "make a fresh cut so it will absorb water."

Dress for conditions, which usually warrant warm coats, work gloves and boots. "It's colder out here in the open than it is at your house," said Ziegler. "And it may be muddy." Gloves will also protect your hands while you cut and handle the tree.

Don't go alone. "It's much easier to saw down a tree if someone else is holding on to it while you saw," said Ziegler.

After you get your tree home, minimize its exposure to dry air by closing the heat register next to the tree and keeping it away from sunny windows.

Keep your tree well-watered, said Ziegler. Additives and home remedies do not keep the tree fresh longer, she said. "I've heard people say you should add aspirin, 7-Up or scotch, but I don't see the trees using those in the field. Better to save your money for Christmas gifts."

Don't forget a camera. It's not every day you cut down a Christmas tree.

Call before you go to confirm availability, clarify directions and what is included in the price. (Most tree farms include shaking, twining/netting and/or bailing of trees; employees often are available to help you tie your tree to your vehicle or load it.)

Expect to pay with a check or cash. Many farms do not accept credit cards.

Following are the Christmas tree farms within a few hours' drive of Chicago.



Ben's Tree Farm

7719 Ryan Road, Harvard; 630-279-0216; benstreefarm.com

Hours: 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Nov. 25 and Sat.-Sun. Nov. 26-Dec. 18.

Trees: 6- to 15-foot Fraser, balsam, concolor, Nordman and Canaan firs; 6- to 13-foot Scotch, white and red pines; Norway, Colorado blue, Engelman and white spruces, organically grown and pesticide-free

Cost: Pines up to 8 feet are $39 or $6 per foot for 8-foot-plus; firs and spruces, $8.75 per foot