3 easy steps to make your real Christmas tree last this holiday season

Fresh tree, fresh cut and fresh water are essential in keeping your real Christmas tree fresh and hydrated throughout the holiday season.

As a general rule, your tree stand should hold at least 1 quart of water per inch of diameter of the tree trunk. Photo credit: Gary Chastagner, WSU
As a general rule, your tree stand should hold at least 1 quart of water per inch of diameter of the tree trunk. Photo credit: Gary Chastagner, WSU

One of the reasons commonly cited for choosing an artificial Christmas tree over a real tree is the mess; specifically, needles on the carpet. However, needles lost from real Christmas trees can be kept to a minimum by following three simple steps to keep your tree fresh and hydrated.

Fresh tree

Start by picking a tree that is fresh. If you cut your own tree at a choose-and-cut farm, you know exactly when your tree was cut. However, it’s impossible to know when a tree was cut when buying a tree at big box store or tree lot.

To check the freshness of a tree at a tree lot, try the "pull test." Grab a shoot with your thumb and forefinger and run them along to the end. If the tree is fresh, the needles shouldn’t come off. You can also try the "tap test" if the tree is not too large. Pick the tree up and tap the base gently on the ground. You should not see needles coming off if the tree is fresh.

Fresh cut

Right before you put the tree in the stand for display, cut 1 inch or so off the base of the tree. All Christmas trees are conifers, which contain resin canals in their trunks. Once the trees are cut, resin will begin to block some of the pores and slow water uptake. Making a fresh cut will help increase water uptake by your tree.

If the tree has been cut within the last six to eight hours, it will not need to be re-cut; however, any longer than that then the end should be re-cut to improve water uptake.

Fresh water

Cut Christmas trees absorb a surprising amount of water, particularly during the first week when they are displayed in a house. As an example, a tree with a 2-inch diameter trunk may initially use 2 quarts of water per day; a tree with a 4-inch diameter trunk may use more than 1 gallon per day. The water capacity listed on a stand’s label or box can be misleading. Usually, they list the capacity of the reservoir when the stand is empty, but you also need to allow for the amount of water that will be displaced when the tree trunk is put in the stand. Unfortunately, many high-end decorative or antique-looking stands do not hold much water, so be sure to look at these carefully.

Check your tree stand at least daily. Don’t let the water fall below the level of the trunk bottom. The key to keeping your tree fresh is to make sure the container holds enough water and refill it often.

One of the most common questions Michigan State University Extension educators receive concerning Christmas trees relates to using additives in the Christmas tree stand. Some people have seen TV or newspaper advertisements for water additives to extend tree freshness. Others have concocted their own “home remedies” with ingredients such as sugar, aspirin, bleach and 7UP. Research in Washington and North Carolina has shown that your best bet is plain tap water. Some of the home remedies such as bleach and aspirin caused heavy needle loss and should be avoided.

More information on selecting and caring for your Christmas tree from MSU Extension


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Dr. Cregg’s work is funded in part by MSU‘s AgBioResearch.

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