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 to last the holiday season. Maintaining your evergreen will ensure that it looks its best and prevent potential safety hazards. It will also make cleanup easier when Christmas is over and it's time to say goodbye to the tree.

Select a Long-Lasting Tree

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

'Refresh' Your Tree

If you're buying a tree from a lot, odds are the evergreen was harvested days or weeks earlier and has already begun drying out. When a tree is harvested, the sliced trunk oozes with pitch, sealing the transport cells that provide water to the needles. You will need to "refresh" your Christmas tree and open up the clogged cells so that the tree can deliver appropriate moisture to the foliage.

Using a tree saw, make a straight cut along the bottom of the trunk—taking at least one inch off the original harvest cut—and immediately place the new cut in water. This will improve water uptake once the tree is on its stand. Even 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.

Use the Proper Stand

The average Christmas tree is about six to seven feet tall and has a trunk diameter of four to six inches. A standard tree stand should be able to accommodate it. 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 continue 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 that sell 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 Your Tree Hydrated

Always keep the base of your 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, or other additives. Research has shown that plain water will keep a tree fresh.

To make watering your tree easier, consider buying a funnel and a three- to four-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.

Practice Safety

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 on and around the tree. Check for worn Christmas tree light electrical cords and always unplug the complete system at night. Remember that miniature lights produce less heat than large lights and reduce the drying effect on the tree, which lessens the chance of starting a fire. Additional safety tips are available from the National Fire Prevention Association.

Dispose of Your Tree Properly

Take the tree down before it dries completely and becomes a fire hazard. A tree that is totally dry will have brittle greenish gray needles. Be sure to remove all ornaments, lights, tinsel, and other decor before taking down the tree. Many municipalities have laws dictating how to 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.