For many people, fresh-cut Christmas trees are an annual family tradition and a necessity for the holiday season. The entire process is teaming with memories—from going as a family to pick out a tree to the aroma of pine or fir wafting through the home, and even the constant clean up of fallen needles.
If you’re spending money on a real tree, you want to get your money’s worth. The best quality Christmas trees will come from a Christmas tree farm where you can cut your own or a reputable retailer that trucks in fresh trees. Trees for sale on corner lots may sit for quite some time and aren’t in the greatest health.
The following 15 tips will help keep your tree in the best possible health through the holiday while it’s in your home.
- 1. Transport the tree home very carefully
- 2. Protect the tree before bringing it inside
- 3. Trim the trunk
- 4. Clean branches off the bottom
- 5. Get your Christmas tree stable in the stand
- 6. Keep the tree watered
- 7. Give it time to acclimate
- 8. Keep cords out of the tree
- 9. Don’t set it near a heat source
- 10. Cool the room down a little
- 11. Give the tree clean water
- 12. Avoid using softened water
- 13. Don’t let the water level drop
- 14. Replace stagnant, smelly water
- 15. Take it down in a timely fashion
1. Transport the tree home very carefully
Make sure it is fully wrapped in plastic or netting (many sellers will wrap a tree after purchasing it) or transport it in an enclosed space in your vehicle. If you are tying it to your car, make sure it is secured tightly and place the bottom of the trunk facing forward to prevent damage to the branches when driving.
2. Protect the tree before bringing it inside
Once home, keep the tree someplace sheltered, such as an unheated garage or on your porch, before moving it into your house. Place the base of the trunk in a bucket of water.
3. Trim the trunk
When it’s time to put it into a tree stand, make a clean cut on the tree trunk using a handsaw before putting it into a tree stand. Remove a one to two-inch disk of wood from the bottom, cutting straight across.
Do not cut on an angle or create a v-shape, and do not drill a hole in the bottom of the trunk.
4. Clean branches off the bottom
Remove the branches from the bottom of the trunk to create a handle of about 12-inches, so it fits into the stand nicely. Do not remove any bark. The bark is where the xylem is, so it is the most efficient at water absorption.
5. Get your Christmas tree stable in the stand
No one wants to wake up and find their tree tipped over! With some help from a second pair of hands, center the tree in the middle of the stand and tighten the eye-bolts a little at a time until they are firmly pressed up against the trunk. When you step away from the tree, it should stand straight up on its own and be centered in the middle of the tree stand.
6. Keep the tree watered
Make sure the tree is always well watered, using fresh, clean tap water. Keeping your living Christmas tree well-watered fosters better needle retention and fragrance. A fresh-cut tree will take in a gallon of water in the first 24 hours and then about a quart of water each day.
7. Give it time to acclimate
Before decorating the tree with lights and ornaments, give it a couple of hours or overnight to come to room temperature. This allows the tree to warm up, letting the boughs “settle” and drop down into their natural place.
8. Keep cords out of the tree
Avoid weaving extension cords through the tree’s center or wrapping them around the trunk when stringing lights on your tree. Instead, try to have them run down the back of the tree, out of view.
9. Don’t set it near a heat source
When deciding on a spot for your Christmas tree, keep it away from any sources of heat—this includes fireplaces, radiators, heat vents, direct sunlight, and space or kerosene heaters. Even well-watered trees are incredibly flammable when indoors.
10. Cool the room down a little
If possible, slightly reduce the temperature of the room when your Christmas tree is set up. A drop in ambient temperature helps prevent dryness and moisture loss from the needles, reducing subsequent needle loss.
11. Give the tree clean water
Use only plain tap water to water the tree. To maintain your tree’s freshness, do not add aspirin, sugar, or other recommended concoctions as preservatives. While there are many on the market, research shows they aren’t worth the money and don’t significantly improve the longevity of your tree.
12. Avoid using softened water
For homeowners with a water softener system, try to collect water before it goes through the softener or use distilled water for the tree. Softened water contains large amounts of sodium, that once they build up in the tree to high levels, impedes water uptake.
13. Don’t let the water level drop
If the water level in the stand dips below the cut edge on the trunk, sap will seal the pores of the open “wound,” making it so the tree can’t take in any water. If this happens, pull your tree from the stand and make another clean cut on the trunk.
14. Replace stagnant, smelly water
If the water in the base begins to smell sour, do not add bleach. Try to drain as much water as possible from the tree stand and replenish it with fresh water. To keep the water from smelling stagnant, give your tree a small amount of water every day, keeping the water line just above the base of the trunk instead of filling it every few days.
15. Take it down in a timely fashion
After the holiday season is over, pull the decorations off of your real Christmas tree and dispose of it properly. Leaving it inside your house for too long increases the risk of fire.
If you purchased a tree with a living root ball, it can be planted outside once the climate conditions are suitable. For better planting success, keep the tree inside for a short amount of time—two weeks at most. Evergreens need a cold period during winter for good spring and summer growth. Bringing them inside for 4-6 weeks may disrupt this.