Water is the single most important factor in keeping your Christmas tree fresh. Here are 8 tips to keep your Christmas tree hydrated so that it stays as fresh as possible through New Year’s Day.
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The Thanksgiving turkey is done, the soup is made, the relatives sent packing. Now it’s time to bring a formerly living organism into the family gathering area, put it on life support, and hang shiny things on it. Yup, I’m talking about your Christmas tree.

There’s nothing quite like the scent of a fresh cut real Christmas tree in your home during the holidays. But you may have noticed that as Christmas Day nears, the scent of pine fades. This is especially true of Christmas trees you didn’t cut fresh at a farm. The scent diminishes because the tree is slowly drying and losing its freshness.

Most Christmas trees are cut in early November. By Christmas, your tree may be more than 6 weeks out from when it was cut, and drying more by the day. By then, the scent may be barely noticeable and the tips of the branches easily snap off, sending ornaments to the floor. And if the temperature outside is cold and you’re heating your home more than usual, the drying speeds up. To make sure that the needles on the tree don’t cover your Christmas presents, seek out the freshest tree possible and create optimum conditions in your home for it to stay hydrated.

How to know if a Christmas tree is fresh

If you cut your own tree at a Christmas tree farm every year, skip to the next section.

The freshest Christmas trees are cut close to your address. Ask the store or garden center when the tree was cut – but of course there’s no way to verify what they tell you. If the tree was trucked hundreds of miles to your town, it may have been drying for weeks, so you might want to pass (you may have to disappoint that Cub Scout troop).

To check a Christmas tree for freshness, gently pull a branch with your thumb and forefinger. The branch and green needles should still be flexible and stay on the tree. If the end of the branch breaks, if you get a handful of needles, or if they’re a dull green, pass. You should shake the tree too, to see how many needles fall off. If they cover your shoes, move on. And give it the smell test – a fresh Christmas tree should not smell musty, but have a fresh fragrance (it may be pine, cedar or spruce). Read more about the different types of Christmas trees.

**If brown needles are falling from the interior of an otherwise green tree, this is not necessarily a cause for concern. All needled evergreens shed their old needles every year and they collect within the tree. But you don’t want to bring them indoors, so give the tree a good shake to knock them off.

A family cutting their own tree at a Christmas tree farm in Pennsylvania.

Buy on Amazon: Christmas Tree Stands

Christmas tree watering tips

Water is the single most important factor in keeping your Christmas tree fresh. Trees dry out just like flowers do, so think of the tree as a giant flower and the stand as its vase.

A fresh cut Christmas tree can use up to 1 quart (0.95 liter) of water per day for each inch of diameter on the cut end. A typical 7-foot-tall tree may have a 3-inch trunk diameter, so will need up to 3 quarts of water per day. If your tree is taking up a lot of water, this is actually a good sign and indicates the tree is fresh and hydrated.

Making your real Christmas tree last through the holidays, Michigan State University

Here are 8 tips to keep your Christmas tree hydrated so that it stays as fresh as possible through New Year’s Day.

Your Christmas tree stand should not only be sturdy, but should be deep enough to allow water to cover an inch or two past the base of the tree. A stand that holds 1 gallon (3.7 liters) is usually large enough to accommodate the typical home Christmas tree. And make sure the stand is big enough for the tree you bring home to avoid a holiday tree crash. Do not cut the trunk into a V-shape, or at an angle, because angular cuts like this will make the tree unstable in the stand. Water the tree daily, especially in the first week when it’s most thirsty. It will use a surprising amount of water at first. You should see a notable decline in water uptake by Christmas. Check the water level daily to make sure it does not drop below the base of the tree. The temperature of the water does not affect its uptake so room temp tap water is just fine. You only need to cut a straight 1/2″ disc off the base of the trunk to encourage water uptake. Do not cut wood from the sides, as this area is needed for taking up water. When a tree is cut, sap runs to the site to seal the wood. That’s why making a fresh cut is important for the tree to access water. A conifer draws water up through vessels and into its vascular system where it then absorbs the water. When you slice an evergreen, the cut starts drying immediately and within 12 hours the vessels are sealed and unavailable to take up water. Unless it’s covered in water. If you’re going to wait a day or two before setting up your Christmas tree, place it in a cool, shaded area and stick the trunk in a bucket of water to keep it hydrated. Recut the bottom of the trunk before setting the tree in its stand to expose fresh wood to water (see above). Drilling a hole in the base of the trunk does not improve water uptake. If possible, don’t set up your tree next to a heat source. That includes a window with direct sunlight, your TV set, a radiator or a fireplace. Lower the room temperature to slow the drying process (a good excuse to regularly wear that ugly Christmas sweater). Antitranspirants – chemicals added to block evaporation from the needles – have very little effect on an indoor Christmas tree. Water-holding gels are also not useful, as they can reduce the amount of water available to the tree. Tree preservatives, flower preservatives, molasses, Viagra, hairspray, bleach, sugar, aspirin, honey, and other additives are not necessary. Clean water is all the tree needs. Avoid flame retardants. Some can damage the needles and actually increase the amount of water evaporation from the tree. Caring for the tree properly, keeping it away from a heat source, and maintaining enough water in the tree stand is all that’s necessary.

And remember to recycle your tree after the holidays – please don’t send it to a landfill.

Sources: Tips for Selection and Care of Cut Christmas Trees, Penn State Extension; How to Keep a Christmas Tree Fresh For as Long as Possible, Popular Science.

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