Walking by a house stunningly adorned with glittering lights and authentic garland, with Santa, elf and candy cane decors scattering the yard in just the right fashion and with a proud, bright Christmas Tree shining from the living room window, you think – how did this wonder house do it?

Let’s first start with the tree. A live Christmas tree needs care, like any other plant.

Annette Weese from Cold Creek Nurseries, which currently sells Fraser Fir trees and saplings such as Canadian Hemlocks and Junipers, recommends putting the trees in water-filled stands to keep them hydrated and placing them in cool rooms.

Another way to prevent them drying out is keeping them away from direct sunlight, said Ron Simons from University Parkway Church of God whose Mens and Ladies Auxiliaries is also selling Fraser Firs. Simons is the church’s Sunday School superintendent and Life Builders Men’s Fellowships member.

Use preservatives; it keeps the branches lively. Make sure your lights are up-to-date, and even consider using LED lights, since they burn cooler, said Derrick Poe from Home Depot, which has in stock Douglas and Fraser Firs. Poe is the head of the Garden Department

To eye the perfect Christmas Tree, look for firm branches and needle-full trees, Weese said.

“Frasers are just an example of the many trees with thick branches,” Poe said.

However, needles will still fall off, so best be prepared by putting down a bag underneath the tree. Plus after the big day is over, you can take that bag, and wrap it up over the tree for a neat clean-up, Simons said.

Most of these trees came south from North Carolina.

While live trees hold traditional value for some, others have started gearing towards artificial trees, and stores, like Cold Creek Nurseries, Home Depot and, even, Hobby Lobby, have complied with their demands.

Though a lot a people still prefer the real trees, artificial trees are a go-to, Poe said. They are reusable. Some are decorated. The frosted trees are a big draw at times.

Kim Kelleher, Hobby Lobby co-manager, does notice that the store’s pseudo trees draw shoppers’ attention.

“We have lit, un-lit, pine cones, no pine cones, flocked, un-flocked,” she said.

Stores carry decorated and undecorated trees, to please different preferences.

Regardless, whether you prefer the sap-filled, real instrument or the reusable, fake centerpiece, picking the tree is just one part of puzzle; decorating it is the next.

Many places in town have decorations – Cold Creek Nurseries, Home Depot, Tea Garden and Gifts, Aiken Center for the Arts, Walmart, 3 Monkeys Fine Gifts, to name a very brief handful.

Start first by putting on the tree-topper, as suggested by “Better Home and Gardens” magazine. This might seem unacceptable to some who see the beauty of placing the gold star or praying angel on last, but it is to avoid ruining your hard work, i.e. breaking placed ornaments, moving strung lights or even toppling the tree. And this year, try something different by putting an odd shape or flower or feather arrangement on the top.

Next comes the body of the tree. Starting from the toppered-top, work your way down, stringing the garland, lights, etc. as loosely or neatly as you wish. Try not to put the strings too close to together, and keep in mind ornaments will be going on the tree next.

Using varied or uniform ornaments is ultimately up to you. The real trick is putting on the ornaments according to size, starting with the biggest and ending with the smallest; you can also start the process by putting on your best ornaments first. However keep apart the ones that don’t match, and remember, always spread the ornaments evenly throughout. Spreading the ornaments throughout the tree helps keep your guests’ eyes moving, i.e captivated by your stunning tree longer.

If simplicity is your taste, try to keep the tree in an one-color scheme, as in decorate the tree all in white, all in blue, all in red, etc. If that doesn’t suit you, go for two colors: red-green, blue-silver, silver-gold. This list can expand, and go on and on. For some more tricks and tips, visit: www.hgtv.com/holidays.

The tree is set-up and decorated, and it looks breathtaking.

Now comes, well, everything else.

Popular plant side-items include poinsettias and wreaths. Red poinsettias spring to mind when the plant is mentioned, but Cold Creek Nurseries carries 18 other kinds like their popular Ice Punch, red dotted with white specks; Marble Star, light pink outlined in faint white; and Premium Apricot, an extremely light orange with some leaves slightly tinged in green.

Aiken High School’s FFA also will be selling red, white and pink poinsettias this Friday and Saturday at the 42nd annual Christmas Craft Show, said Meghan Wood, club advisor.

The club learned how to grow the plants through the school’s greenhouse program, and, like Alan Maclay at Cold Creek, has been growing them since August.

To hang inside on the walls or outside on the doors, wreaths can accent rooms or welcome guests. University Parkway Church of God volunteers took the dropped-off trimmings from their trees to make their wreaths.

“We probably make as much profit from the wreaths as we do the trees,” Simons said. “It’s very labor-intensive, but we have some good volunteers, some crafty ladies.”

The wreaths have big red bows attached and will also be sold on Saturday at the Farmers Market.

In the spirit of tradition, the FFA will also sell wreaths at the craft show, Wood said. They make the wreaths and then customize them, based off people’s wishes. They take requests before, during and after the show.

These “flavors of Christmas,” as Wood puts it, teach the teenagers an useful skill. The wreaths were made from trees such Fraser firs and Magnolias.

Decorating a home can be overwhelming.

One simple, yet important, piece of advice comes from Salley Rich, 3 Monkeys Fine Gifts co-owner.

“Buy and display things in threes – three candlesticks, three reindeers, three Santas, three trees,” she said. “Always do it in threes.”

If you wish to up the number, you can, but just keep it an odd numerber. The reason is simple – balance.

To start using that tidbit, the store might be a good start with Simon Pearce’s glass Christmas trees, candle and candle holders, picture frames and stuffed Wise Men and snowmen.

While you are in the area, you can pop into stores like Tea Garden and Gifts with its mail box covers, hand towels, doormats, cups and cookies jars, or just visit any of the many stores downtown has to check out the many ways they want to you to get in the holiday spirit.

However, the mainstream, corporate stores do hold their own, such as Hobby Lobby and Target.

“There are two types of customers, the traditional who go for the greens, whites and reds and the younger customer that go for the funky pinks, greens and teals,” Kelleher observed.

The store carries many choices from DIY supplies to stockings, candles and nutcrackers.

“You have to do what feels right to you,” Kelleher said.

Cold Creek sells its trees Mondays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on 398 Hitchcock Parkway. For regular store hours or more information, visit coldcreeknurseries.net or call 648-3592.

Church of God normally sells its trees Mondays through Fridays from 3 to 9 p.m. and Saturdays 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on 1761 University Parkway. For more information on the trees or the church, call 226-0648 or visit http://sites.mychurchwebsite.net/index.php?churchID=2731.

Aiken’s Home Depot can be called at 648-6291, 3 Monkeys at 648-7592 and Hobby Lobby at 648-1098.

The craft show runs 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Odell Weeks Activities Center on 1700 Whiskey Road. Admission and parking is free. For more information on the show or the FFA’s part, call the center at 642-7631 or the school at 641-2500.

Stephanie Turner is a reporter with the Aiken Standard. She is a graduate of Valdosta (Ga.) State University.