I’ve never been a fan of artificial Christmas trees. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, but going to get a fresh cut Christmas tree a week after Thanksgiving is a tradition for my family.
I like everything about having a cut tree for Christmas — their smell, their look and even their neediness. The stories that came from Christmas tree fails over the years shaped some of the funniest stories of my childhood. Sure, it might be easier to construct an artificial tree, throw on some decorations and be done with the entire process, but I’d rather care for and enjoy a real tree.
If you’ve never had a real tree before, don’t be turned off of getting one for the first time by letting someone convince you it requires a ton of additional work. Some care is required, but it’s fairly simple.
The first step to reducing the mess associated with needle loss is choosing a fresh tree. Here’s what to look for:
- Pliability: Pluck a tree needle and bend it between your thumb and forefinger. If it snaps instead of folding in half, the tree might be too dry.
- Color: The tree you select should have a healthy green appearance with very few dry or browning needles.
- Sturdy outer needles: If the needles are fresh and flexible, they shouldn’t fall off in your hand if you gently stroke an outer branch. Likewise if you lift the tree a couple inches off the ground and let it drop onto the cut end, green needles shouldn’t fall off. Some brown inner needles may fall off, but the green outer needles shouldn’t be affected.
Before selecting a tree, be sure to check the size of the space you’ve saved for your tree both height- and width-wise and choose a tree stand that can accommodate its size.
Some things to look for include:
- Stability: The stand you choose needs to be able to hold your tree upright.
- Adequate water capacity: It should be able to hold about one quart for each inch of stem diameter.
- Ease of setup: If you think thumb screws are too hard to manage when you are lying under the tree tightening and keeping the tree straight at the same time, many chose-and-cut farms offer stands with a centrally positioned spike. The farm will bore a hole in the trunk to accept the spike and all you have to do is pound the stand in place and set it upright at home.
Once you have a space and a stand ready for your Christmas tree, you’re nearly ready to install it. There are only a few things left to consider:
- Recutting: After a tree is cut and exposed to air, the exposed cells become blocked to water uptake. This is why it is important to cut a half inch off the bottom of your tree if it has been exposed for more than six hours.
- Location: Be sure to set your tree up away from any heat sources to reduce the already small risk of a Christmas tree fire.
- Settling: Before putting any decorations on your tree, be sure to let the limbs fall and settle. Generally, waiting over night is long enough.
Now that you have your Christmas tree home and setup, you probably want it looking and smelling fresh for Santa. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t take much to care for a cut tree.
10 tips to preserve your tree:
- As mentioned in the section above, make sure your tree stand holds enough water to provide one quart per inch of stem diameter. Always make sure the stump end is covered in water and water daily to avoid drying it out. You may even have to water your tree more than once a day during the first week.
- Don’t cut layers of bark off your trunk. The outer layers take in the most water.
- If you have to store your tree for a couple days before putting it up, find a cool, shaded place and make sure it’s trunk is submerged in water.
- If you have to recut your trunk make sure to make a level cut rather than cutting it into an angle or ‘v’ shape. This ensures the tree is stable and maximizes its water intake.
- Always display your tree away from heat sources. Lowering room temperatures can also slow the drying process.
- Use a traditional stand. There’s no reason to go buy an expensive stand with “I-V” type devices that supply water directly to holes drilled into the side of the trunk. The most effective water-delivery system is a traditional stand.
- Don’t bother applying anti-transpirants or flame retardants to the foliage surface. They won’t prevent the drying process in any significant way and flame retardants can actually work against you and speed up the drying process.
- Don’t bother adding water-holding gels to your stand as they can reduce the amount of water that is available to your tree.
- Clean water is all that is needed to keep a cut tree fresh. The temperature of the water and the use of additives don’t make a difference in preserving your tree.
- Regularly monitor your tree for dryness by running your fingers across the needles to determine if they are dry and brittle. If the tree is dry the needles will break and fall off easily. When a tree is well cared for it will last for three to four weeks.
Rather than simply bagging your tree and throwing it out, there are green ways to get rid of your it. In urban areas, trees are generally left on the curb for pick-up and then recycled for mulch. In other areas, you may need to take your tree to a central recycling center where trees can be chipped for mulch. One thing you should consider before deciding on a disposal method is whether or not you had your tree shipped to you. If that is the case, you should probably destroy it to prevent the introduction of unwanted new pests in the spring.
Happy Holidays and enjoy your cut Christmas tree!
- Penn State Extension
- Purdue Extension
- Michigan State University Extension
- University of Illinois Extension
- Virginia Cooperative Extension
- 11 Christmas tree facts you may not know (infographic)
- Deck the halls: Christmas tree buying guide
- 6 tips for Christmas tree care
- Recycle your Christmas tree after the holidays
- The perfect tree
- Family tradition, trees and rescue
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