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You just brought home your freshly cut tree. Now what? Here's your guide to keeping live Christmas trees looking fair and lovely all season long.

live christmas trees, christmas tree careGetting your live Christmas tree home is just the beginning. Photo: Getty Images

'Tis the season -- Christmas tree season! Time to pick out a new Douglas fir or Balsam tree and bring it home to be trimmed and admired. (If you haven't picked out your Christmas tree yet, check out Holidash's Christmas Tree Buying Guide.)

Unless it's your first time at the lot, you know that getting your live Christmas tree home is just the beginning. Keeping it green and gorgeous until the 25th and beyond is the real challenge, even for seasoned experts. We've put together a primer of a few tried-and-tested yuletide tips on everything from how to water a live tree to what not to put into the stand.

In order to help your new Christmas tree keep its needles intact, you'll want to make sure the tree stays hydrated. A reservoir-type stand is best for feeding your new Christmas tree adequate amounts of water and helping it retain its needles longest. Buy one that's able to hold at least one gallon of water, with adjustable metal anchors designed to steady the tree. A quality stand's label dictates the height of the tree it will accommodate; follow its guidelines to a tee, lest your tree topple.

Rule of thumb: Measure the diameter of the tree's trunk; your stand should hold one quart of water per measured inch.

pruning a Christmas tree, live Christmas tree, Christmas tree careDon't forget to prune your Christmas tree before you decorate it. Photo: aus_chick, Flickr

A real Christmas tree isn't as symmetrical and trim-ready as an artificial out-of-the-box version, so you'll probably want to prune the branches with garden pruners before decorating yours. Here are a few rules to heed:
-- Never carve the tree's trunk in order to fit it into a stand; you'll only hamper its ability to absorb water.
-- Do not drill a hole into the trunk; it will not improve water absorption.
-- Lop off the lower whorl of the tree's branches only if they prevent the trunk from reaching water in the stand; shear limbs flush with the trunk.

A live Christmas tree requires watering -- just like any other plant or tree in your home -- to stay green and healthy. Here's how to give your tree the perfect amount of hydration.

-- Frequently check water levels in the stand and judiciously fill the reservoir so water always covers the exposed end of the trunk. Certain trees -- especially within the first day and week of being cut -- will gulp a gallon of water per day.
-- Always use plain tap water in the stand. Additives (aspirin tablets, sugar) and DIY recipes (bleach with corn starch) are actually more likely to impede water absorption and probably also cause needles to drop faster. (Yes, we're actually advising against DIY hacks, believe it or not!)
-- Use either hot or cold water in the stand; it makes no difference. Your tree drinks water at the same rate at either temperature.

A cut Christmas tree won't last forever, of course, but you can keep it looking merry and bright for the Christmas season with the care techniques above -- plus a few other tricks.

-- Display your tree out of direct sunlight and at least three feet away from heat sources (fireplaces, heat registers). it slows the drying process and is good fire-safety practice.
-- Keep the Christmas tree in a room that's slightly cooler than those in the rest of your home. It will consume less water and stay fresher longer.
-- Use LED and miniature holiday lights; they emit less heat than regular-sized lights and will help a tree preserve needles.

Christmas tree safety, live Christmas treeChristmas lights and dried out trees are a genuine fire safety concern. Photo: Getty Images

It's a bummer to think about your new Christmas tree being anything but a festive focal point in your home. But the truth is, live Christmas tree can be a fire hazard. In fact, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that about 260 structure fires are caused by Christmas trees each year. Here's how to keep your home safe this season.

-- Ensure your tree isn't blocking any entrances or exits.
Never set it up in a doorway or stairwell.
-- Never burn your Christmas tree, either in a fireplace or wood stove. Needles burn quickly, often out of control, and sap can explode, sending sparks flying. In addition, pine and fir trees cause creosote (a flammable tar) to collect on chimney walls, which can ignite and cause a chimney fire.
-- Only use extension cords, electrical decorations and light strings that carry the label of a reputable, independent testing laboratory. It means each has been rigorously tested and meets stringent safety standards. If the decoration doesn't carry the label, it's not safe enough to use in your home. Period.
-- Check lights and decorations for frayed and bare wires, cracked sockets and broken bulbs. Toss immediately and replace if anything is awry. Otherwise they're a fire and shock risk.
-- Don't over-light your tree or overload outlets.

Rule of thumb: Always keep it to three strings of lights (regular or mini) or a maximum of 50 screw-in type bulbs per single extension cord, and just one extension cord per outlet. Turn off lights before leaving home and when going to bed. It saves energy, helps the tree last longer and reduces risk of fire.

Under the best circumstances, your fresh-cut tree would probably last about five weeks tops. After that, it just becomes a bigger and bigger fire hazard as the New Year edges on.

-- Tossing your tree within one month of getting it
is a good rule of thumb.
-- After removing all lights and decorations, drag your tree out to the curb with the rest of your household trash. It will eventually end up in a landfill this way, and it's usually a free service for a couple of weeks after the Christmas holiday.
-- Don't bag your tree; leave it for the trash collectors as is.
-- Consider recycling your tree. Your community may offer a recycling program in which cut, cleaned-off trees are chipped and used for mulch in public areas, or offered up for free to lucky residents come spring. Recycling programs in some towns offer free curbside pick-up. Others organize drop-off sites throughout the month of January.


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