Have you ever walked through a stand of pine trees, breathing in the fresh, bright smell of the needles and thinking of Christmas? You aren't alone. Some 30 million people in the United States buy real Christmas trees every year. The association of evergreen scents with the holidays is so deeply ingrained that some people burn pine incense to bring on the holiday spirit.
Consider a Christmas tree to be like a bouquet of cut flowers, serving to ornament the house and celebrate the season. Like flowers, cut trees need to be cared for to help them stay fresh and lush as those presents pile up. Experts say you can keep a cut tree in tip-top shape in your living room for up to five weeks (well past New Year's Day) with proper attention. Learn some hacks to help you achieve that end.
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1. Be Choosy and Take Your Time
Some say the key to a good marriage is being choosy beforehand, and experts offer the same advice about Christmas trees. You don't have to pick from the handful in front of the grocery store. Christmas trees are a renewable resource grown on 350,000 acres in 15,000 tree farms in the U.S. Take your time, inspect the trees in your area, and pick one likely to last. Some considerations include:
- Varieties: Some evergreens stay fresh longer than others. For long-lasting needles, try balsam fir (Abies balsamea), Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens), Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris), and white fir (Abies concolor). Aromatic Scotch pine is extremely popular, and its inch-long, bright green needles hold for weeks even when the trees dry out.
- Condition of specimen: It pays to do a careful inspection of your prospective Christmas tree before you buy. Yellow or brown needles are a bad sign. Any pests or visible pest damage should also cause you to look elsewhere.
- Check the freshness: Ask where and when the trees you are considering were harvested. If they were cut weeks ago or come from out of state, they may not be fresh. You can do a simple test for freshness by touching the needles. If they are brittle, the tree was cut some time ago. Another test is to stand up the tree, lift it off the ground 6 inches, and let it drop back so the trunk base hits the ground. If lots of green needles fall off, the tree is not fresh.
2. Cut Your Own
You can never be sure whether you are getting accurate information from the vendors about how long ago the trees in a lot were cut. That's a good reason to cut your own. Look for a Christmas tree farm that allows you to select a tree and cut it yourself. The idea has an old-fashioned charm and ensures that your tree is as fresh as possible the day you bring it home.
3. Transport With Care
Typically, Christmas tree vendors strap your tree to the top of your car with twine so you can get it home, but they aren't always as careful as they might be. Supervise the tree's placement yourself.
Lay a tarp on the vehicle's roof to protect it and then enlist a second person to help you lift the tree. Place the tree in the middle of the car roof with the trunk (not the tip) facing forward. Attach the tree with long pieces of twine looped over the tree and attached to the inside safety handles in your car. Drive slowly.
4. Recut the Tree Trunk
Just like cut flowers, cut Christmas trees need water to stay hydrated and fresh. In fact, many of the steps you can use to keep the tree fresh involve keeping it hydrated. This starts the minute you get home by having a bucket of water waiting to receive it. However, you'll want to recut the trunk first if it's been more than a couple of hours since it was cut.
Once trunks are cut, they harden off with sap within three hours, sealing the transport cells that provide moisture to the foliage. Even plunking the tree in a container of water won't help after that since the tree cannot deliver water to the needles. You can solve this by either cutting your own tree and hurrying home or asking the vendor to cut off another inch of the tree as you buy it and then hurrying home. Alternatively, as soon as you get the tree home, cut off an additional inch yourself.
5. Provide Plenty of Water
Once the cut tree is sitting outside in a bucket of water, give it a shower with a hose. This allows the tree's needles to absorb humidity before coming into the house. As soon as you can after that, place the cut trunk of the tree into the bucket of water. At that point, prepare the Christmas tree stand. You'll want one that holds at least a gallon of water. You want some 3 or 4 inches of the tree trunk under water to prevent it from forming a sap barrier.
From that point on, you need to keep the base of your tree submerged in water. While some argue that cut trees do not need water, this has been disproved by studies. According to an article published by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, one study by Les Werner, associate professor of forestry at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, found a direct correlation between needle retention and moisture content, establishing that cut trees without water lose significant needle moisture, while watered trees maintain needle moisture.
6. Feed the Tree
It may just be American mythology, but lots of people believe that adding sugar or corn syrup to the water you give a tree helps keep it fresh. While no studies have proven this to be true, no studies have shown the practice to be harmful either. So go ahead and add something sweet to the mixture.
If nothing else, it may help you to keep that water topped up. A general rule is that a typical tree needs a quart of water a day for each inch of its diameter. This means most Christmas tree stands need to be topped up with water every day.
7. Keep It Cool
Evergreens are not tropical or even subtropical trees. Cut or planted, they prefer mild or cool weather and will drop their needles when the air gets too warm. So don't station the tree near a radiator or even a fireplace. Figure out the coolest area of the room and pick that site for the Christmas tree. Be sure to cut the heat and douse the fire when you leave the room. Wreaths and garlands in the room will also profit from this.
Lights are also heat sources and can dry out those green needles. This is true even when the strings of lights are Christmas decorations. Turn off all electric lights when you leave the room and use LED lights to decorate the tree.
8. Add Some Humidity
Trees stay fresh longer if the air is humid. Most homes in December aren't particularly humid, so you'll have to help the tree by spraying it with a mister every day or two.
Alternatively or in addition, consider running a humidifier during the day near the tree. It may seem extreme, but at least you will feel that you did everything you could to help your Christmas tree stay fresh over the holiday season.
- National Christmas Tree Association: Quick Tree Facts
- Smithsonian Magazine: Dreaming of a Green Christmas
- Taste of Home: 8 Tips for Keeping a Christmas Tree Fresh, Merry, and Bright
- Michigan State University Extension: 3 Easy Steps to Make Your Real Christmas Tree Last This Holiday Season
- University of Illinois Extension: Christmas Trees & More
- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Water Your Christmas Tree