Buy only freshly cut trees. Fresh-cut trees are longer lasting and are less likely to become fire traps. To test for freshness, bend a needle or two sharply between your thumb and forefinger. If the needle is brittle, the tree is too dry; if it springs back to its original position, the tree is fresh.
Needle shed. Select the trees least likely to shed needles when brought indoors. The choices, from best to worst, are pine, Douglas fir, spruce, and hemlock.
Before setting up your tree, saw 2.5 cm (1 in.) or more off the base for the trunk to provide a fresh, absorbent surface for taking up water. Keep your tree stand filled with water. Set up the Christmas tree as far away from heat sources as possible to minimize drying and to prevent fire hazards; because of their high resin content, dried evergreen branches are highly flammable.
A winter mulch. Branches from the tree make an ideal winter mulch for perennials, small border shrubs, and strawberries. Either shred with a wood chipper or lay pieces of whole boughs atop the soil.
Choose a living tree. Buying a living tree for replanting outdoors will enhance your landscape long after the holidays are over. Just make sure not to keep the tree indoors more than 8 to 10 days; otherwise, it may not survive when planted out. If your living tree has been balled and burlapped, pot it in a tub or planter. Fill in with sphagnum peat to keep the soil moist.
Decorate your living tree with strings of cranberries and popcorn. When the tree is planted out, it doubles as a bird feeder.
Mulch the planting site. In cold-weather regions where the ground freezes hard, blanket the site where your tree will go with a generous layer of mulch well before Christmas. This will keep the soil from freezing deeply and make it easier to work the soil and dig a planting hole. Before planting your living tree, acclimate it to the outdoors by holding the tree in an unheated garage or a garden shed for a few days.