5 Ways to Keep Your Christmas Tree Fresh

Tips on Christmas Tree Care and Freshness

Christmas tree by the window
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Many families believe that Christmas just isn't Christmas without a real, freshly-cut Christmas tree. Others are satisfied with a tree purchased in a local retail lot that could potentially be cut for weeks. I am one who loves the experience of selecting a tree in a forest or on a farm and harvesting their own tree for the holidays.

Whether you purchase your tree from a neighborhood lot, a large box store or a Christmas tree farm, this simple guide wilI help you keep it fresh.

The steps outlined here will help you keep a Christmas tree fresh through the holiday season and reduce the problem of a messy tree removal.

Important Steps for Increasing the Freshness of a Harvested Christmas Tree

Step 1:  You will likely need to "refresh" a Christmas tree if it has been harvested for several days. When trees are harvested, the cut will ooze with pitch sealing the transport cells that provide water to the needles. Removing a portion of the tree butt above the cut will open up the clogged cells and the tree will be able to maintain appropriate moisture to the foliage.

Refresh by making 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, especially if the tree was purchased from a lot and not freshly cut. 

Step 2:  Place the tree in a stand that will hold at least 1 gallon of water.

You should expect the tree to take up additional water if not freshly cut. Trees that have been cut for days will take up most, if not more, that that first gallon so it might be best to invest in a larger capacity stand.

There are several excellent stands on the market and examples of the designs available.

(I recommend these high-quality Christmas tree stand designs.)

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. Remember to place the tree butt in a container of water if you are not able to place the tree in a stand over the next several hours. 

Step 3:  Again, 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. 

Commercially prepared mixes, aspirin, sugar and other additives introduced into the water are not necessary. Research in a North Carolina State publication has shown that vital but very plain water will keep a tree fresh. Their studies confirm that most "concoctions have been tested in hopes of prolonging the life of cut Christmas trees" but  "additives are of little benefit and sometimes produce adverse effects." 

Step 4:  All Christmas trees will dry over time with or without water and increasingly become fuel for starting a home fire. 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.

Step 5:  Take down the tree before it dries completely. 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. In some tree species, you will see a needle drop but always do the crush test to be certain.

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 (from NC State publication, Christmas Trees) 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.

Important Tips 

  1. Cutting a refresh "cookie" off the tree base is important only when trees have been cut for over 4 hours. If you let your stand water go dry for 4 hours, a new cookie cutting is necessary but will be impossible to do. Important: keep your stand full of water.
  2. For easier watering, buy 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.