Putting a cut evergreen tree inside a dry, warm house isn’t very practical, yet we invite nearly 30 million beautiful, fragrant real Christmas trees into our homes each year—to mixed results.

There are lots of myths about making a Christmas tree last longer—such as drilling holes in the base of the trunk to let in more water (it won’t work and actually damages the tree’s tiny capillaries that absorb water). Here are the real ways to keep your tree fresh longer…

Look, Touch, Drop

When you’re shopping, look to make sure that your tree doesn’t look wilted. Then touch to make sure the branches are flexible and springy, not stiff and brittle…and run your hand lightly along a branch toward you to see if the needles fall off. If a few drop, that’s fine, but a lot isn’t good. Now raise the tree a few inches, and drop it straight down on the bottom, cut portion of the trunk. If a shower of needles drops off, don’t buy the tree.

Choose a tree that will fit into your base so that you won’t need to hammer or whittle it (that damages capillaries, too). Get the seller to cut one-quarter inch off the base to expose fresh wood for better water uptake. Once home, place your tree away from any heat source (fireplace, heating duct, radiator).

Bleach, Aspirin and Other Myths

Your beautiful new tree is very thirsty, ­absorbing up to a gallon of water a day. Top off the water regularly, even daily, with cool tap water. Don’t let the cut base be exposed to air.

What about additives to the water? A penny leaches copper, which is supposed to act as a preservative, but that’s unproved. Nor will adding sugary soda or corn syrup “nourish” the tree—it’s no longer alive.

Other additives kill germs—a bit of bleach, vodka, vinegar, lemon juice or an aspirin. But your tree drinks in water so quickly that the water won’t get stagnant. And consider safety—do you want your pet or a small child around bleach water?

Here’s what really makes a difference: Daily misting. Your tree will gratefully absorb the moisture through its needles. For safety, turn tree lights off first and leave them off for two or three hours after misting. And don’t mist near delicate, fragile ornaments.

Tip: Turn off tree lights right before bedtime, mist and then turn them back on in the morning. Even those tiny lights emit heat that can dry out the tree.

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