Enjoy the holidays with a live Christmas tree that lasts!

Oct 22, 2008 at 12:57 p.m. ET

There's nothing like the scent of a fresh Christmas tree filling the air of your home to put you in the mood for the holiday season. Here's how to keep live Christmas trees looking good throughout the holidays.

christmas tree

Nothing like the aroma of a live tree

The Christmas tree has been the symbol of Christmas for centuries. Unfortunately, for many families, the tradition of selecting and cutting their own Christmas tree has been replaced with dragging an artificial tree from its box in the attic, dusting it off and assembling it each year.

Somehow there's something lost in the process. What happened to the family togetherness of selecting and bringing home the tree and the ambiance and aromas of a real tree?

As a society, we've extended the Christmas season. We start celebrating around Thanksgiving, so we want to have a Christmas tree that lasts longer along with the lengthened holiday season. But does a real, live Christmas tree have to be sacrificed in the process? Not with proper selection and care.

Here are some steps for selecting and caring for your live Christmas tree that will lengthen your enjoyment this Christmas:

Step 1: Select a fresh tree

When selecting a tree, test it for freshness. Gently take a branch between your thumb and finger and pull it toward you. If the tree is fresh, very few needles will fall off in your hand.

Next, shake or bounce the tree on its stump. Only a few green needles should fall to the ground. It is common for some interior brown needles to fall off over the life of the tree.

Step 2: Store it properly

If you won't be decorating your tree immediately, keep it in a cool, sheltered place like your porch or garage so that it doesn't get damaged by the sun or elements before you're ready to decorate it.

Step 3: Preparing the tree

Make a fresh cut across the bottom of the tree, about one-fourth inch above the original cut. Then place it in a tree stand that holds at least one gallon of water.

Step 4: Water is important!

Keep the tree stand filled with water. In about four to six hours, a seal of dried sap will form over the cut stump if the water drops below the base of the tree.

If this seal does form, the tree won't be able to absorb water when you do refill the tree stand. You'll have to take down the tree and make a fresh cut. Avoid this hassle by keeping your stand filled with water.

Step 5: Watch it closely

A tree will use around a gallon or more of water within the first 24 hours, so watch it closely. Then it will absorb about a quart or two of water every day. Keeping your tree well-watered will keep it smelling fresh, and prevent the needles from drying and falling off and the boughs from drooping.

Step 6: Safety first

To prevent fires, keep your tree clear of fireplaces, radiators, television sets or other heat or drafts.

Make sure your light cords do not have cracks or broken or empty sockets. Always turn your Christmas tree lights off before going to bed or leaving the house. Never overload electrical circuits.

With these simple steps, you'll be enjoying a warm, aromatic Christmas season around your live Christmas tree. Happy holidays!