There are lots of confusing myths about how to care for a cut Christmas tree once you get it home.

In spite of the claims of many advertisements for tree preservatives, good old water seems to be the best recipe for making sure your tree remains fire resistant and that it does not drop its needles, says Rick Fletcher, forester for the Oregon State University Extension Service.

To keep a tree fresh, Fletcher recommends waiting as late as possible before the holidays before you cut your tree.

'Trees cut in early December perform better than trees cut in mid-November,' he said.

Once you bring the tree home, store it in a cool, moist place until you bring it in the house. When you do bring it in, cut about two inches off the bottom of the stem to reopen the water conducting tissues. Place the tree in a water stand that holds at least one gallon of water.

Drilling holes in the base of the tree will not improve water uptake, he said. And forget putting additives in the tree stand water.

'Some people advocate putting everything from honey to aspirin in the water to help preserve the tree, but tests have shown that plain water does just fine,' said Fletcher.

Place the tree away from heat sources such as fireplaces, wood stoves and heater vents.

Check the tree at least once a day to ensure that it does not run out of water.

And, if it runs dry of water, Fletcher recommends removing it from the tree stand and recutting its base to get it to continue taking up water.

According to the National Safety Council, here are some other tips to make sure a mishap doesn't spoil your holiday season.

* A real tree can also pose a fire hazard. Each year, more than 400 residential fires involve Christmas trees and tragically nearly 40 deaths and 100 injuries result from those fires.

* Try to select a fresh tree by looking for one that is green. The needles of pines and spruces should bend and not break and should be hard to pull off the branches. On fir species, a needle pulled from a fresh tree will snap when bent, much like a fresh carrot. Also, look for a trunk sticky with sap.

* Cut off about two inches of the trunk and put the tree in a sturdy, water-holding stand. Keep the stand filled with water so the tree does not dry out quickly.

* f you use an artificial tree, choose one that is tested and labeled as fire resistant. Artificial trees with built-in electrical systems should have the Underwriters Laboratory label.

*Only use indoor lights indoors (and outdoor lights only outdoors). Look for the UL label. Check lights for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Replace or repair any damaged light sets.

*Also, use no more than three light sets on any one extension cord. Extension cords should be placed against the wall to avoid tripping hazards.

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