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How to Care for a Real Christmas Tree

12/04/2015 05:07pm ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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Therese Ciesinski, Houzz Contributor

Artificial trees may have increased in popularity, but for the purist, only a real tree will do. No matter how realistic it looks, an artificial tree can't compete with the scent and feel of a real evergreen. It's a living part of nature that, for a short time, we give a place of honor in our homes.

And no matter which kind of tree it is -- spruce, fir, pine or cypress -- once it's indoors, the goal is to keep the tree fresh and green. This means keeping the needles pliable and on the tree until the holidays are over. And the only thing that does that is water, lots of it. Think of it like a big, green pet: Just as a dog or cat needs fresh water every day, so does a fresh Christmas tree.

Get the tree in water immediately. Once you get your tree home, put it into water as soon as possible, within eight hours. If the trunk wasn't freshly cut at the place where you bought the tree, then saw an inch or two off the bottom of the trunk and put it in a tree stand filled with fresh water. If you're not ready to set it up, put it in a bucket of water in a cool place. The water temperature doesn't matter.

Use the right stand. It should comfortably fit the diameter of the trunk. Whittling the trunk down will only dry the tree out faster. The National Christmas Tree Association recommends that a tree stand should provide 1 quart of water per inch of stem diameter. Be sure the tree stand you choose has a large water reservoir. A tree can take up a gallon of water in its first few hours in the stand.

Water, water, water. Big trees mean lots of agua. Watch that the cut part of the trunk stays below the waterline. Adding aspirin, lemon soda or other concoctions to the water won't extend the tree's life, but it might sicken pets or children if they drink out of the water reservoir.

Once indoors, a live tree's branches will relax and open. Allow enough space when siting the tree for the lowest branches to fall open and not get in the way of foot traffic.

Keep the tree cool. To an evergreen that spent years growing in a field, your house is as dry as the Sahara Desert. And where do Christmas trees often look best? Centered in front of windows, where the sun streams in, or tucked into a corner near air vents or baseboard heaters.

Cozy up this winter with a new blanket

Position the tree out of the sun and away from heat sources. Keep the temperature in the room as low as is practical.

As magical as it seems to come home to a sparkling tree, don't leave the tree's lights on overnight or when no one's in the house.

Decorate your home in style with new Christmas decor

Even with daily watering, cut trees will eventually dry out. When needles drop when you touch them, and branches droop so low that ornaments are hitting the floor, it's time to take off the lights and decorations, wrap the tree in an old sheet, and take it outside.

You can saw off some of the tree's branches and cover garden beds with them to protect plants, or turn them into mulch with a chipper or shredder. If you have the acreage, drag the tree to an out-of-the-way spot for birds and animals to use as cover. Most communities now collect spent Christmas trees and make mulch or compost from them, which they offer back to residents. The saddest end for a tree is for it to be hauled off to a landfill, instead of being turned back into soil -- allowed to decompose and feed living creatures, the way nature intended.

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