OSCEOLA/MECOSTA COUNTY — To help get homes decorated and ready for the holidays, officials have a few tips for picking the perfect Christmas tree and how to keep it looking healthy through the season.

Before loading up in the car and heading out to find a tree, families should measure the dimensions of the space where the tree will be going, according to the American Christmas Tree Association. When getting ready to cut down a tree, the ACTA website suggests checking for freshness and checking for pests.

For a fresh tree, Dick Duddles, owner of Duddles Tree Farms, said it is best for families to come and cut their own.

"We do have some trees already cut," he said, noting the conifers were harvested recently.

Duddles said whether a family cuts their own tree or purchases a pre-cut pine, the most important thing to remember is not letting the tree run out of water.

One way to estimate the freshness of a tree is by looking at the needles, ACTA says. The needles should stay attached to the branch, and not come off in a handler's grasp. A person also can grip the tree by the trunk and tap its base against the ground. If a cloud of needles falls, then the tree is well on its way to being dead.

The needles and branches also should be flexible when bent. If branches break or don’t spring back into shape, then the tree is drying out. Another way to tell if a tree is still fresh and lively is by smelling the branches and trunk. If it still has a sappy, earthy smell, then the tree will probably last for several more weeks. If it’s odorless, Christmas tree customers should give the pine a pass.

The ACTA suggests families check for the presence of beetles, mites and aphids. While not dangerous, these pests can trigger allergic reactions in some people, and are generally not welcome house guests during the holiday season.

For those purchasing a pre-cut tree, the ACTA suggests cutting half to an inch off the base of the trunk to ensure the tree is able to absorb moisture.

When a Christmas tree is cut, more than half its weight is water, according to the National Christmas Tree Association's website. To help keep a Christmas tree alive through the holidays, families should display the conifer in a traditional reservoir-type stand to maintain freshness and minimize needle loss.

As a general rule, stands should provide one quart of water per inch of stem diameter, the NCTA suggests. Families should check the level of water daily.

The NCTA also suggests keeping trees away from major sources of heat, such as fireplaces, heaters, heat vents and direct sunlight, as well as lowering the room temperature to slow the drying process, resulting in less water consumption each day so the pine lasts through the holidays.