Fake trees may be easier to deal with, but you can’t beat the feeling you get from having a real Christmas tree during the holiday season — especially if this is your first holiday in your new home.
The thrill starts when you pick one out at a garden center or roadside stand. Tying it to the car and driving through the neighborhood to bring it home is half the fun. But once you’ve got the tree in the house, you’ll want to ensure it doesn’t get all crispy before the holidays start.
Tips for keeping your freshly cut Christmas tree looking spectacular
With Christmas morning just a few weeks away, let’s look at some tips for making sure that your live tree looks merry and bright all the way into the New Year.
- Choose the perfect tree type.
First, you need to investigate if cut-your-own trees are available in your area. If not, your option will be limited to freshly-cut trees. That’s fine, though; even in the deep south, Christmas tree farms are springing up to provide fresh trees to the local communities.
Look for varieties like Scotch Pine, Colorado Blue Spruce, Douglas Fir, Fraser Fir, balsam Fir or White Fir. These tend to hold onto their needles longer than other tree types, so there’s less vacuuming up spent pine needles. If you have lots of ornaments or they’re on the heavier side, you’ll want a tree with sturdy branches. Scotch Pine, White Spruce, Noble Fir, Black Hills Spruce and Fraser Fir are good choices.
- Determine freshness.
To find the freshest tree available, inspect the choices for brown or rust-colored needles or dried-out bark. Then, shake the tree a bit or ask the attendant to slam the tree trunk on the ground. If it drops a lot of needles, keep looking. You should also check the needle quality. If they feel bendy and flaccid, move on. But if they feel firm and release a little sap when you break them in half, that’s a keeper.
- Make sure there are no hitchhikers.
For the most part, Christmas trees grow outdoors on farmland and it’s not impossible to take one home that may house a critter or two. While it’s doubtful that live birds will come with your tree, you may discover some spiders or other harmless insects. If you find an abandoned bird nest, remove it quickly as it could harbor lice. Inspect the tree trunk for little holes that may indicate the presence of bark beetles and look under branches for white sacs that could contain spider eggs.
Remember, it’s been a warm autumn, so some insects that would have moved on by now (or would have died as the temperatures dropped) may still be living in your newly bought tree. Before bringing it inside, slam the trunk on the sidewalk several times to dislodge unwanted stowaways.
- Give your new tree a drink.
Your tree was probably cut down at least a week ago and hasn’t had much to drink in a long while. To quench its thirst, and ensure your fresh tree doesn’t dry out too soon, make a new cut across the base of the trunk and place it in a bucket of water until you’re ready to bring it indoors.
The fresh cut will help the tree absorb more water and give it a head start for the warmer temps inside. That said, if you can’t keep it in water right away, trees can temporarily be stored for several days in a cool location without a problem, but it’s best to help them replenish their moisture asap.
- Make the perfect cut.
To make a fresh cut, remove about a half-inch thick wood disk from the base of the trunk before putting the tree in the stand. Cut straight across the trunk, not at an angle or a v-shape. That just reduces the water access and makes it harder to steady it in the stand.
Although commonly done, drilling a hole in the base of the trunk does not improve water uptake, so don’t bother. And don’t trim the bark on the sides of the trunk to make it fit a smaller stand: the outer layers are the most efficient in taking up water and should not be removed.
- Use an appropriate stand.
To maintain freshness and limit needle loss, your Christmas tree will do best in a traditional reservoir-type stand with an adequate water-holding capacity for the size of the tree. So, grab a tape measure. A general rule of thumb is that a tree stand should provide one quart of water for every inch of stem diameter. Important: The cut in the tree’s base should always be submerged and never exposed. That will keep the water flow consistent. If the bottom dries out and seals up, you’ll have to cut the base again and that’s a major hassle, so keep it lubricated.
Your tree will be thirsty for a while, so you’ll want to refill the stand with water often. It doesn’t matter if the water is warm or cold; the temperature will not affect water uptake. But avoid hot water, which could hurt the tree’s outer layer and burn the person doing the watering. As time goes on, you’ll see that the tree is drinking less and less. Common myths claim that adding vodka, bleach, sugar or aspirin to the water helps, but we’re not sold.
- Cool it, buddy.
Humans love a warm, cozy house. Evergreens? Not so much. Keeping it too warm in the home and not watering it enough can turn your beautiful Christmas tree into a fire hazard. So keep your tree away from radiators, forced air vents, fireplaces and space heaters. Believe it or not, direct sunlight and even proximity to a flat-screen TV can wreak havoc on a fresh tree. A nice side benefit: a cooler room will keep the tree from drinking water so quickly.
- Lighten up!
Are your Christmas lights generating too much heat? Maybe. Older bulbs that are hot to the touch are a big no-no. Instead, buy a string of miniature or LED lights that produce little to no heat. Besides looking great, they reduce the drying of the tree. Always inspect light sets before placing them on the tree. If the bulbs are busted or the wires are worn, replace them with a new set. Make it a point not to overload electrical circuits and always turn off the tree lights if you’re leaving the house or going to bed.
- Always put safety first!
Just because a Christmas tree looks sturdy, it’ll be no match for a curious cat or a terrorizing toddler. And a tree falling on a little one will not only break a lot of ornaments and make a huge mess, but the branches can also cause scrapes and cuts that could require a doctor’s visit. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so position your tree clear of high-traffic areas and attach a thin cord or fishing line from the wall, ceiling or window trim to the top of the tree for extra support.
- Don’t make a mess.
Nothing is as sad as taking down a spent Christmas tree. Or as frustrating as getting it — and all its remnants — out of the house. After putting away all the ornaments and decorative garland, vacuum up the fallen needles. Then lay an old sheet or tarp on the floor. With the help of another adult, dislodge the tree from its stand and lay it on the tarp.
We like to wear work gloves while doing this as the tree can still be shedding sap which is a pain in the neck to get off hands and fingers. For the same reason, we tie a plastic bag around the exposed trunk at this point. Wrap the horizontal tree in the tarp, duct tape any uncovered areas to keep stray needles from getting all over and haul that sucker outside. Back inside, you can wipe sap drippings from the floor with a bit of rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer.
- Make your tree truly evergreen!
Many counties offer residents curbside pickup options and drop-off centers — often free of charge — in the first few weeks of January. But, even though trees are biodegradable, they won’t help the environment by sitting in a public dump with other trash.
Ask your town government if there is a recycling program. Christmas trees can be used for soil erosion barriers, protective homes for freshwater fish, starter kits for coral reefs, small bird sanctuaries, gardening mulch, paths for hiking trails and many other uses. Just remember, Christmas trees are only recyclable if they are free of decorations and have not been sprayed with fake frost or other chemicals.
So, there you have it!
Enjoy your Christmas tree in your new home, and make sure you start the New Year on the right foot by recycling!