Follow these simple tips to extend the holiday season.

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This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

For many of us, the holiday season just wouldn't be complete without the fresh scent and glowing lights of a real Christmas tree. But if you’re worried about waking up on Christmas morning to a blanket of pine needles, you’re not alone. Without proper care, a live tree can quickly dry up, making it not only unattractive, but also a potential fire hazard. To keep your tree fresh throughout the holiday season, we sought some insider info from Kurt Emmerich, co-owner of Emmerich Tree Farm and president-elect of the Christmas Tree Farmers Association of New York. Keep reading for Emmerich’s seven essential tips on how to make your Christmas tree last longer, so you can enjoy the holiday season for as long as possible.

1. Choose the Freshest Tree Possible

When searching for the perfect tree, it’s important to keep in mind that you’re dealing with a living plant. “The shorter the time between cutting and display, the better the chance your tree stays fresh and loses less needles,” says Emmerich. If you’re purchasing from a lot, make sure to avoid trees with dry, brittle needles. To guarantee a long-lasting tree, the best solution is to cut down your own tree from a local tree farm. This way, you can control the amount of the time between cutting the tree and getting it into water.

2. Get Your Tree into Water as Quickly as Possible

Once cut, the tree trunk will need to be submerged in water right away. “Trees ‘drink’ water through the conductive tissue (called the xylem) just inside the bark,” Emmerich notes, and immediately immersing the cut tree in water will help keep its trunk and needles fresh for longer. Before you leave for the tree farm, prepare a large, sturdy bucket of water in a protected, unheated area, like a garage, so you can get your tree into water as soon as you get home.

3. Make a Fresh Cut

“As trees are moved and time elapses from the cutting to the displaying, the tree sap in the xylem tends to harden and block the flow of water to the needles,” Emmerich explains. Trimming the trunk of your tree will remove the clogged tissue at the base of its vascular system. Cut the tree right before you display it to help maximize water absorption.

4. Make Sure Your Tree Drinks Before Decorating

Depending on the tree you choose, you may need to trim its trunk more than once. “Some trees may take more effort to get them to drink water from the stand,” he says. “If you give a tree a fresh cut and it still hasn't consumed any water after a day, the remedy is to take it down and cut it again.” For this reason, Emmerich advises waiting a day or two between putting the tree in the stand and decorating it.

5. Look for a Fir Tree

Before heading off to find your Christmas tree, it’s a good idea to educate yourself on the different varieties. “Based on their physiology, firs tend to hold their needles longer than pine, and pines hold their needles longer than spruce,” Emmerich remarks. “Most fresh-cut trees on the market are firs, but cut-your-own farms still have pine and spruce.” Each species has its own unique characteristics. “With pine and spruce, it is critical that you assure the tree is drinking water before you decorate it,” he stresses.

6. Place Your Tree in the Best Location

Once your tree is home, it's important to choose the best location for it. Though displaying a Christmas tree next to a fireplace or wood-burning stove will certainly create that warm, cozy vibe, it’s guaranteed to dry out the tree quickly and could potentially lead to a fire hazard. “Place your tree in an area where it will not be subject to direct heat radiation,” instructs Emmerich. “The cooler the environment, the fresher the tree will remain.”

7. Watch the Water Levels

Keep an eye on how thirsty your tree is, and refill the tree stand as needed. ccording to Emmerich, most trees will last four to six weeks if properly trimmed and watered. By following a few basic rules, a live evergreen can be almost as effortless as an artificial one. An added bonus? “A real tree will reward you with a wonderful scent, a beautiful backdrop for your decorations, and a real connection to nature throughout the holiday.”

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