1. 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. Shake or bounce the tree on its stump. You should not see an excessive amount of green needles fall to the ground. Some loss of interior brown needles is normal and will occur over the lifetime of the tree.
2. 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 are ready to bring it indoors and decorate it.
3. Before you set up your tree, make a fresh, straight cut across the base of the trunk (about a quarter inch up from the original cut) and place the tree in a tree stand that holds a gallon of water or more.
4. Keep the tree stand filled with water. A seal of dried sap will form over the cut stump in four to six hours if the water drops below the base of the tree, preventing the tree from absorbing water later when the tree stand is refilled. If a seal does form, another fresh cut will need to be made.
5. A tree will absorb as much as a gallon of water or more in the first 24 hours and one or more quarts a day thereafter. Water is important because it prevents the needles from drying and dropping off and the boughs from drooping. Water also keeps the tree fragrant.
6. 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 the lights before you go to bed or leave the house. Never overload electrical circuits and use only UL approved lighting accessories.
7. Avoid combustible decorations such as paper, wood, or plastic.
8. Always unplug your lights/decorations before going to bed or leaving home.
9. Make sure your smoke detector is in good working order and a fire extinguisher is nearby and in good working order.
10. Never place candles or other open flame sources on or near your tree.
Live trees are also popular. If planning to have a live tree and plant it in your landscape after the holidays, know the species to discern whether it is suitable for our area and how large it will be when mature. Another option is to plant a tree in a large container that can be brought indoors for a week or so during the holiday season. Keep in mind that the tree will be stressed while indoors from heat and lack of sunlight. Regardless of your holiday traditions or religious affiliation, it can be fun to bring an evergreen tree into your home.