While we all can agree that a tree is a vital part of decorating our homes for Christmas, when it comes to what kind of tree, we all fall into two equal-but-opposite camps: real or fake.

Which team you’re part of probably depends on a lot of different factors. What kind of tree did you grow up with? Are you a fan of old-school holiday traditions or are you more about crazy-cool Christmas trends? Do you have small children prone to pulling, snatching, and “tasting” everything at eye level? Are you the mythical person who actually enjoys wrestling with and hanging lights on the tree, or would a pre-lit tree completely make your life? Do you have pets who would get WAY too over-excited over their new “toy” or who would immediately do battle with the alien greenery?

It’s a lot to consider! (Honestly, it’s no wonder that so many people seem to be turning to alternative trees altogether.) But by far the most common consideration that pushes people onto #TeamFake is how tricky it can be to make the real tree last all the way to Christmas Day.

Fear not, Team Real! We’re on your side, and we’re going to try to bring in some reinforcements by showing people a simply genius trick for knowing EXACTLY when to water that Christmas tree and keep it truly evergreen through all 12 Days of Christmas and beyond. (Yes, that’s where that ping-pong ball comes into play!) First, though, let’s go over the basics of real Christmas tree care.

Real Christmas Tree Care 101

  1. Start in the right place.

    Keeping a healthy tree festive and green starts with picking the right one, and that step starts with heading to the right location to find it. This Old House recommends shopping locally for your tree, patronizing either an established tree farm or a lot that brings in trees from local farms. Not only will those trees be fresher and healthier, they’re also bred specifically to last through the Christmas season!

    Don’t know where to start to find yours? Not to worry! Martha Stewart recommends the National Christmas Tree Association’s website, which has its own search engine to help you find your area’s perfect tree!

  2. Find a tree with green genes.

    OK, no, we’re being slightly facetious here; unless you’re a genetic scientist with a travelling lab, you can’t actually check the DNA of your Christmas tree. What you CAN do, however, is perform some simple tests to find out if that tree that looks so good on the lot will stay looking good when you get it home.

    Do any needles fall off when you grab a branch between your thumb and forefinger and then gently pull your hand toward yourself? Are the needles missing that tell-tale Christmas tree scent when you crush a few in your hand? Do exterior needles fall off when you bounce the tree? (Interior needles falling off is normal.) Will the trunk only fit in your stand if you strip away the bark? (Never do this! Trees need that “cambium layer” to absorb water.) If you answered yes to any of these questions, move on to the next tree candidate!

    Also, it might seem obvious, but it bears repeating: make sure your tree will fit your home! Measure both the stand’s circumference AND the available height accounting for both the stand and your tree topper. And as This Old House reminds us, “measure twice, cut once!”

  3. Make a fresh cut in that trunk.

    Why? This Old House explains:

    Cutting the end off the trunk is critical to opening up the veins that will deliver water to the branches. Use a pruning saw, and take at least an inch off. You can have the lot do it before you leave if you’re headed for home, but you should wait if you’re going to be out more than four hours. Otherwise, the end will glaze over with new pitch, and the tree won’t take up water.

  4. Water, water, water.

    And now that you’ve got your tree home, the most important thing? Keep it watered! It’s especially important to water it consistently within the first few days, and never let that water level dip too low. And be vigilant— your tree will suck up a LOT in the first few days. At least a gallon!

Intimidated by that last item? Don’t be! You won’t kill your tree – or yourself while checking it – if you have a ping-pong ball on hand. Watch the video from Wochit Media below to learn how!

Smart! Do you have any real-Christmas-tree-keeping tips and tricks to share? Are you on team real, team fake, or another team entirely?