Caring for Your Christmas Tree

— Written By Travis Birdsell
en Español / em Português

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Choosing the perfect Christmas tree is always a rewarding experience. Once you get your tree home the following items will help you have a safe, fresh tree through Christmas season.

Even though the tree is cut, it still needs water to remain fresh. Give it a fresh cut when you get home to remove the bottom 1” of trunk. This allows the tree to take up water as needed. If it will be a day or two before you display your tree, place it in a shady spot in a bucket full of water after its fresh cut.

Tree stand that holds over one gallon of water

This large bowled tree stand holds over one gallon of water.

Trees can “drink” up to a gallon of water in the first 24 hours of display. In order to ensure there is enough water, Christmas tree stand selection is important. Not all stands are created equal, some hold very small amounts of water and can go dry very quickly. It is recommended to get a stand that holds at least one gallon of water and has a wide base.

Monitor your tree’s water level daily during the first week of display. Never let the water level drop below the base of the tree. This can cause the base to seal off and stop taking up water.

You only need to use fresh clean water when filling up your stand. Tree preservatives and additives can actually make trees lose their needles faster, and at best they perform the same as just regular tap water. Certain additives that are sugar-based can cause microbial growth over time that seals off the bottom of the tree. Jeff Owen, NC State Extension Forestry Specialist for Christmas tree production and marketing, has evaluated various available additives and the results point to the same conclusion.

Pay attention to where you display your tree. Try to keep it away from south-facing windows, heat registers, or fireplaces. These can cause a tree to dry out rapidly. In fact, the lower the temperature, the better the tree will perform.

UL certified tag on Christmas lights

Check for this tag to make sure your lights are UL certified.

Christmas tree lighting is an important area to pay attention to. We now recommend LED lights that use much less energy and do not get as hot as conventional light bulbs. No matter what lights you choose, make sure they are in good working condition and UL certified. Never leave your lights on while you are asleep. It is best to unplug them when you go to bed or leave your house. If remembering to turn them off is an issue, make sure they are connected to a surge protector and a timer.

Periodically check the freshness of your tree. Use one hand and gently grip an outer branch and pull towards you. A fresh Fraser fir will have soft needles that

Hand pulling on Christmas tree branch

Freshness test: lightly grip branch and pull toward you.

remain attached to the tree and snap back into place. Excessive needle shed could indicate a freshness issue. Severely dry trees may hold their needles but they will have a dull olive green color and the individual needles or branch tips will snap and break. If you determine that your tree has dried out, discontinue plugging the lights in and remove from house as soon as possible after Christmas.

Following these tips will help ensure that the tree you display is fresh and safe, and enjoy bringing the outdoors inside this year with your festively decorated tree!