How to Keep Your Christmas Tree Fresh All Season

Christmas tree by the window
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Whether you buy your Christmas tree from a lot or hike deep into the woods to cut your own, you'll need to keep it fresh if you want it last all season long. Maintaining your evergreen while it's in your home will ensure that it looks its best and also prevent potential safety hazards. It will also make cleanup easier when Christmas is over and it's time to say goodbye to the tree.

Before You Buy

Consider the kind of tree you want. Most fresh cut trees, if properly cared for (using the first four steps), should last at least five weeks before completely drying out. Some species hold their moisture content at higher levels than do others. The best trees that retain moisture the longest are Fraser fir, Noble fir, and Douglas fir. Eastern red cedar and Atlantic white cedar rapidly lose moisture and should be used only for a week or two.

When You Get Home

If you're buying a tree from a lot, odds are that evergreen was harvested days or weeks earlier and has begun drying out. When trees are harvested, the cut will ooze with pitch sealing the transport cells that provide water to the needles. To prevent this, you will need to "refresh" your Christmas tree to open up the clogged cells so the tree will be able to maintain appropriate moisture to the foliage.

Using a tree saw, make a straight cut taking at least one inch off the original harvest cut and immediately place the new cut in water. This action will improve water uptake once the tree is on its stand. If your tree is freshly cut, you should still place the base in a bucket of water until you're ready to bring it inside to keep it fresh.

Use the Proper Stand

The average-sized tree, about 6 to 7 feet, has a trunk diameter of 4 to 6 inches, and your tree stand should be able to fit such a tree. Trees are thirsty and can absorb a gallon of water a day, so look for a stand that holds 1 to 1.5 gallons. Water the new tree until water uptake stops and continues to maintain the level of the stand's full mark. Keep the water at that mark through the season.

There are dozens of Christmas tree stands for sale, ranging from basic metal models for about $15 to elaborate self-leveling plastic units that cost more than $100. How much you choose to spend will depend on your budget, the size of your tree, and how much effort you want to put into making sure your tree is straight and stable. 

Keep It Hydrated

Always keep the base of a tree submerged in regular tap water. When the stand's water remains topped-up, the tree cut will not form a resinous clot over the cut end and the tree will be able to absorb water and retain moisture. You don't need to add anything to the tree water, say tree experts, such as commercially prepared mixes, aspirin, sugar and other additives. Research in a North Carolina State publication has shown that vital but very plain water will keep a tree fresh.

To make watering your tree easier, consider buying a funnel and a 3- to 4-foot tube. Slip the tube over the funnel outlet, extend the tubing down into the tree stand and water without bending over or disturbing the tree skirt. Hide this system in an out-of-the-way part of the tree.

Safety First

Keeping your tree fresh does more than maintain its appearance. It's also a good way to prevent fires caused by strings of tree lights or other electric decorations. Maintain all electric accessories use on and around the tree. Check for worn Christmas tree light electrical cords and always unplug the complete system at night. Use UL approved electrical decorations and cords. Remember that using miniature lights produce less heat than large lights and reduce the drying effect on the tree which lessons the chance of starting a fire. The National Fire Prevention Association has more great safety tips on its website.

Tree Disposal

Take down the tree before it dries completely and becomes a fire hazard. A tree that is totally dry has needles turned a greenish gray and all needles and twigs break with a crack or crunch when crushed. Be sure to remove all ornaments, lights, tinsel, and other decor before taking down the tree. Many municipalities have laws dictating how you can dispose of a tree; you may have to bag the tree for curbside disposal or drop it off for recycling. Check your city's website for details.