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Christmas Tree Care

December 11, 2012; 8:42 AM ET

The tradition of bringing a tree into the house and decorating it for Christmas originated in Germany more than 400 years ago but didn't gain popularity in the United States until the mid 1800s. In those days, trees were cut from the wild or from the family woodlot and certainly weren't as full and shapely as the trees we buy now. See more about the history of Christmas trees and traditions in America.

Today, family woodlots are few and far between, and with the demand for "that perfect tree," almost all Christmas trees are professionally grown. Many families still like to share in the experience of cutting their own Christmas tree by visiting a choose-and-cut tree farm. Harvesting your own tree is the surest way of knowing that it is as fresh as it can be.

Most Christmas trees, however, are purchased at garden centers or tree lots, making it difficult to know how fresh they are. Ask the seller where the trees were grown and when they were cut. If he can answer both of these questions, chances are you will be getting a tree that will survive the season with minimal needle drop. A quick test to determine the freshness of a Christmas tree is to grasp the tip of the branch between your thumb and forefinger and pull it gently. Very few needles should come off in your hand if the tree is fresh.

Even the freshest trees will prematurely shed their needles if not handled properly. Just before you bring your tree inside, cut off a 1/4-inch-thick wafer of wood from the bottom of the trunk; then immediately set the tree into a stand filled with water. The tree will probably drink a gallon of water in the first 24 hours. Check the water in the stand daily. If the reservoir is allowed to run dry, sap may seal the bottom of the trunk and reduce future water uptake.

Image Credit: Margo Letourneau

Display your tree in a cool room, if possible, and never near a wood stove, radiator, or other source of heat. Even under the best of conditions, some needle drop is natural.

See 20 more great tree care tips!

During the holidays, we trim the tree with ornaments. See how to make these easy (and fun) cinnamon dough ornaments.

However, remember to trim the tree after the holidays for continued enjoyment! Set it out in the yard decorated with popcorn, peanuts, and other snacks for the birds and squirrels. Back in its natural environment, your tree should remain beautiful through the winter.

Gifts for Under the Tree

If you're still scrambling for Christmas gift ideas, consider Gift Jars, a wonderful way to remember someone by giving a gift from your kitchen. Then fill that lovingly decorated jar with Fiery Pepper Vinegar.

If the kitchen's busy, try The Old Farmer's Almanac General Store! We love the classic pie basket in the Basket & Baking Collection.

Another popular gift item is the Holiday Cookie Collection with the Almanac's prize-winning cookbook and delectable goodies for those who love to cook--and eat!

Find great savings up to 50% in the Almanac.com General Store.

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