Selecting and caring for your real Christmas tree

"Choosing a real Christmas tree is a fun outing for the whole family and easy to do," says Joan Geiger, Associate Executive Director of the National Christmas Tree Association. She suggests a few simple steps when selecting a tree.

First, do a freshness test. Gently grasp a branch between your thumb and forefinger and pull it toward you. Very few needles should come off in your hand if the tree is fresh. second, take a look at the ground around the tree. You should not see excessive amounts of green needles on the ground. Some interior loss of brown needles is normal and will occur over the lifetime of the tree.

Once you've chosen your tree, keep it in a sheltered, unheated area such as a porch or garage to protect it from the wind and sun until you're ready to decorate it.

Geiger recommends that before you set up your tree, make a fresh, straight cut across the base of the trunk (about a quarter of an inch up from the original cut) and place the tree in a tree stand that holds at least one gallon of water.

"Caring for your real tree is easy. The most important thing to remember is that real trees need water daily," says Geiger. "Never let your tree stand go dry."

A seal of dried sap will form over the cut stump if the water drops below the base of the tree, preventing the tree from absorbing water when the tree stand is refilled. If a seal does form, another fresh cut will need to be made.

A tree will absorb over a gallon of water in the first 24 hours and one or more quarts a day thereafter. Water is important because it prevents the needles from drying and the boughs from drooping.

In addition, keep your tree away from heat and draft sources like fireplaces, radiators and television sets. Test your light cords and connections before hanging them on the tree to make sure they're in good working order. You don't want to use cords with cracked insulation or broken or empty sockets. Also, be sure to unplug lights before you go to bed or leave the house.

Sensible precautions such as these will help preserve the unique beauty and tradition only a real Christmas tree can provide.

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