Eight Steps for Keeping Your Christmas Tree Fresh

How To Keep a Christmas Tree Fresh

When I was growing up, I always looked forward to the weekend after Thanksgiving. After all of the family and the food of that holiday, we were finally allowed to switch gears and start getting ready for Christmas. The Saturday after Thanksgiving was always reserved for picking out our Christmas tree.

Christmas trees are a big deal in my family. My father spent a lot of time in his adolescence working on Christmas tree farms in Avery County, North Carolina. My mom was actually helping him sell Christmas trees at a small lot when she went into labor with me. And my favorite book when I was a child was The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, by Gloria Houston.

So I always looked forward to picking out our tree. After we had our tree home, we’d spend the day listening to Christmas music and putting up all the ornaments we’d collected over the years. I have nothing but happy memories about the start of the holiday season, and it’s still one of my favorite times of the year.

The conundrum of putting it up a month early is, figuring out how to keep a Christmas tree fresh for that long! It’s quite disheartening to choose the perfect tree, decorating it just so, then have the needles fall to the ground prior to Christmas day!

Luckily, there are several natural things you can do to help prolong the life of your Christmas tree!

How To Keep a Christmas Tree Fresh

1. Go to a farm where you can cut your own tree.

This might not be an option for everyone, but I live in Western North Carolina, and there are tree farms all over the place. If there is anywhere near you that lets you choose your own Christmas tree while it’s still growing in the field, consider taking a trip there. Not only is it a really fun day (My kids love this tradition!), but you also know exactly how fresh your tree is.

Many trees sold on lots are cut a week or two prior to being put up for sale. That makes those trees a week older than anything cut at an actual tree farm. You also have to consider the fact that trees on lots have gone significant periods of time without water.

2. Choose a long-lasting Christmas tree variety.

In my area, you’d be hard pressed to find a cut tree that isn’t a fir of some sort. Fraser firs are the most popular, and with good reason. The needles stay on for a long time and the trees are beautifully shaped.

If you can’t find a fir, your next best bet is to buy a pine variety. Pine Christmas trees hold their needles well, too, though they don’t have quite the traditional Christmas tree aroma that firs do.

The very last sort of tree you should buy if you’re looking for longevity is a spruce. My father specifically warns against Norway spruces, and all of my research backs that up. My mother tells a story of the only time she bought a spruce Christmas tree. It lost all of its needles and she had to replace it with a new tree a week before Christmas. Frustrating, right?

(This is a great chart at pickyourownchristmastree.org if you’d like to learn more!)

3. Wherever you go, choose the freshest tree you can find.

I understand that I’m pretty lucky to have tons of Christmas tree farms to choose from, and that’s not the case everywhere in the country. No need to worry, though! You can still find a great tree at a normal Christmas tree lot. Here are a few tips for choosing trees on a lot:

  • Buy the trees when they’ve just been shipped. This might mean buying your tree a little early, as soon as the trees have begun to be set out, or it might mean watching and waiting for a new shipment.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Ask where your Christmas tree is from, how long it’s been on the lot, and how long ago it was cut. The person selling you your tree might not know the answer to all of your questions, but it never hurts to ask.
  • Try a test pull of the needles on your tree. If they come off easily in your hands, find a new tree or a new tree lot. You want the needles to be firmly attached to the branches when you buy your tree, because they’re only going to get looser with time.

4. Cut half an inch or so off the bottom of the trunk.

This probably isn’t new information for you, but you may not know why traditional wisdom tells you to cut a little off the bottom of your Christmas tree right before setting it up and watering it. When a tree is cut, the trunk heals up with sap to prevent it from dehydrating. Unfortunately, that also keeps it from absorbing water. When you cut the healed part of the trunk off, the tree is again able to absorb water properly.

5. Place your tree in the optimal location in your home.

There are a lot of things that go into choosing where to put your Christmas tree. You have to consider furniture placement, windows, televisions, and ceiling height. But perhaps the most important thing to consider when placing your tree is its proximity to a heat source.

You do not want to place your tree near a heat vent or the air intake for your furnace. I made that mistake one year and ended up with a dry, brittle tree on Christmas. (I gave up vacuuming the floor and started vacuuming needles directly off of the tree.) Also be sure that you keep it far from your fireplace, space heater, or wood stove. Even windows with direct sunlight can cause a tree to dry out too quickly.

6. Water, water, water your tree.

Christmas trees are just like any other cut plant in that they require an adequate water supply to keep them in good shape. Christmas tree stands usually allow for up to a gallon of water to be added at a time. You’ll need to check daily to make sure that your tree hasn’t run out of water.

If you have a humidifier, consider running it in the room with your Christmas tree. It isn’t completely necessary, but a drier room will lead to a drier tree, so a humidifier won’t hurt!

7. What about additives?

There are all kinds of suggestions online for what to put in the water with your Christmas tree. Bleach, 7-Up, vodka, and crushed-up aspirin all make the list. Personally, I don’t add anything to the water to keep our Christmas tree fresh. I understand the theories behind all of those additions, but I’ve never watered an actual plant with 7-Up, and I’ve had great success with plain old water. Except for that one year beside the heat vent, that is. Even proper watering couldn’t fix that.

8. Other options to consider

You may be considering an artificial Christmas tree. Matt and Betsy talked about their decision to go with a real tree over an artificial tree in this post. Or maybe you want to find a live, dug Christmas tree? That can be a great option, too, if you have the place to plant your tree when the holiday is over, and you do all of your research on the best variety for your area. (Spruce trees, which I mentioned before, actually make great dug trees.) If you’re looking for an organic or low-spray Christmas tree farm, best of luck finding one! The care for your organic Christmas tree should be the same as it would be for a conventionally-grown tree.

How about you?

Do you have more tips for keeping Christmas trees fresh?

Any horror stories of years when that just didn’t happen? Let us know – we’d love to hear all about it!

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Comments

  1. Another, slightly off-beat idea, is to use mountain laurel for a Christmas tree. We have huge amounts of it on our land, so one year I cut a nice rounded laurel bush for a Christmas tree. While it was not the traditional shape (and of course no evergreen smell), it worked beautifully–all the leaves stayed green and in place, and the twigs were strong enough to hold lights and ornaments. We’ve done it several times since then, and still love it! (Don’t know how it would last over a month–we always put our tree up on Christmas Eve, and it usually gets taken down on the day after Epiphany (Jan. 6)–we have left it up until Candlemas (Feb. 2), though, another Old Country tradition, but I can’t remember if we did so with the laurel!)

  2. Hi from New Zealand, where we have Christmas in mid summer. As well as the tips for care that you give we mist our tree twice a day using a garden spray bottle, making sure the tree lights are off. As pines absorb water through their needles, this helps keep them green in the heat for the 3 weeks that we have our tree up.

  3. Hi, I live on a few acres in the Darling Downs region of Queensland, Australia and have an abundant supply of cypress pine to choose from. Like Anne, I also spray the tree with water for a spray bottle and stand the tree in coarse sand and keep it very moist all the time the tree is up. They usually last until mid January when it’s time to take them down.

  4. My dad used to tell the story about their last real tree. Just after our family moved back to Michigan in the early ’70s, the bought a Christmas tree off a lot somewhere. A week before Christmas all the needles fell off. They had to take it down & throw it out. They bought an artificial tree at Sears h that was our tree until I started buying the Christmas tree, & went back to a real tree.