If artificial Christmas trees strike you as a bit too Grinch-like in their aseptic modernity but you worry about bringing a tinderbox into your living room, the simplest solution may also be the best one. Researchers at Washington State University and North Carolina State University report in the journal HortScience that keeping a tree well watered is more effective than applying some commercial products designed to reduce tree flammability.

The researchers tested two brands of Christmas tree fire retardant and found that neither was effective on cut trees. In fact, one retardant actually accelerated the drying-out of the tree's limbs, making them more vulnerable to fire.

Placing the tree in a reservoir of water, on the other hand, boosted the tree's water content beyond its natural pre-harvest levels, making it even less flammable than a fresh-cut tree.

Christmas tree blazes are relatively rare but take a national toll, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). An average of 240 home fires began with Christmas trees annually between 2003 and 2006 in the U.S. Those fires were responsible for an average of 16 deaths and 25 injuries each year, as well as some $13 million in property damage. The U.S. Fire Administration has video showing just how quickly a dry tree can go up in flames, and the NFPA publishes a handy list of tips for tree safety—including checking the tree's water level daily.

Photo credit: © iStockphoto/Denis Tabler