A merry holiday season begins with a tree that rocks the room.

A merry holiday season begins with a tree that rocks the room.

There is no better way to get into the holiday spirit than selecting a fresh tree and cutting it yourself, said University of Missouri Extension forester Hank Stelzer.

You can spread that holiday spirit by buying a tree at a local lot run by a community civic group or tree farm that supports local programs for those less fortunate throughout the year, said Stelzer.

Resist the temptation to buy a live potted tree to plant outdoors after the holidays. Unfortunately, Stelzer said, these trees often do not survive.

When selecting a tree, first look the entire tree over for brown needles. A few are OK, but the tree should look green, Stelzer said. Many tree lots have shakers to remove dead needles before you take the tree home.

Next, grasp a branch and pull your hand toward you along the branch. Green needles should not come off in your hand. Another quick test is to gently bend a small branch. It should bend, but not break.

Caring for your Christmas tree

A cut tree thinks it is under attack, Stelzer said. Pitch, a resinous substance, oozes from the cut area to seal itself from invaders. This keeps the tree from taking up water in the tree stand. Prevent this by making a fresh straight cut across the trunk right before putting it in the stand. Remove about an inch of the trunk. Decline offers at the lot to do this because the tree seals itself before you get home. When you make your cut at home, immediately place the tree in a stand filled with water.

Keep your tree stand’s water bowl filled throughout the holiday season. A freshly cut tree can use a gallon of water in 24 hours, Stelzer said. Refill before the water level goes below the tree’s base or the tree may reseal its cut surface. There is no need to add preservatives, aspirin or soda to the water.

Keep the tree away from vents and other heat sources, especially candle flames. Inspect Christmas tree lights for defects that could cause fires.

A tree's additional uses

Your tree still has uses after the holidays, Stelzer said. Prop up discarded trees near bird feeders to serve as havens for small birds. String trees with orange slices, cranberry and other bird-friendly goodies. Place in a sheltered location.

Another option is to trim tree branches and saw the trunk into pieces. Tie pieces together and store the bundle for an aromatic Yule fire in the fireplace next season.

Use the tree as the base of a brush pile to provide cover for small woodland animals. Use dried-out sprigs to ignite kindling in your wood stove or fireplace, Stelzer said.

Sink old trees in a pond where fish and tadpoles live. If you do not have a pond, share with friends or neighbors who do. Sunken trees also make underwater “baited fields.” Fish such as bluegill and perch use them for cover and will usually be in or near them in spring.