The freshest tree you'll find will be rooted to the ground at a local tree farm. Cutting your own tree (or having someone cut it for you) can be a fun part of your holiday tradition, and it will ensure maximum freshness for your tree.
If you're buying a precut tree, make sure the needles bend easily and aren't brittle. Ask the seller to remove 1/2 to 1 inch from the base of the trunk. Making a fresh cut at the base enables the tree to absorb water. Wrap the tree in plastic or blankets to protect it during the ride home on the roof of your car.
Some people swear that adding sugar or commercial plant food to a tree's water will increase its longevity, but the most important thing you can give your tree is water — and plenty of it. Give your tree water within three hours of harvesting it or having the base of the trunk recut. After a few hours, the cut wood forms a resin cap that will inhibit water absorption. If you can't get your tree to water any sooner, cut the base again yourself as soon as you bring it home and then give it a drink right away. Check the water level in the tree stand daily to make sure the base of the trunk is immersed. Also be sure to keep pets from drinking the tree's water! If the base dries out, you'll have a crispy tree and lots of needles on your rug.
It goes without saying that you shouldn't trim your tree near a fireplace or wood-burning stove, but you should also choose a setting away from direct sunlight, heater vents or fans — basically anything that will dry out your tree. A room humidifier can help prolong your tree's life span. Remember to use lights that are designed for trees rather than for exterior home lighting. Cool-burning, energy-efficient LED holiday lights are the most tree-friendly option. As an added bonus, LED lights tend to outlast conventional (incandescent) tree lights and can be used season after season.
After the holidays, don't trash your tree. Many communities offer curbside pickup or drop-off points for "retired" holiday trees. Using this service will ensure that your tree gets a second life as plant-friendly mulch!
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