How To: Keep a Christmas Tree Fresh

Preserve live Christmas trees from early December into the new year.


How To Keep a Christmas Tree Fresh

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It’s the time of year when Christmas tree lots start appearing around your community, bringing with them a difficult decision–will bringing home your evergreen so early in the season mean having a Charlie Brown-style tree come Christmas Day? Luckily, Dr. Larry Kuhns, Professor Emeritus of Ornamental Horticulture and owner of Kuhns Tree Farm, has some tips on maintaining a fresh pine.

First off, pick the right tree. “True firs nearly always have good needle retention,” said Dr. Kuhns. That doesn’t include the confusingly named Douglas Fir, which is another species, and has less longevity. Frasier Firs are a better option. At the lot, give your choice a shake and watch the type of needles that fall. “Brown needles, which come from the center near the trunk, are fine, but fallen green needles means the tree has gotten dry,” Dr. Kuhns explained.

Related: Christmas Trees: Real vs. Artificial

Because trees are often cut several weeks before appearing on the lot, they have a lot of time to dehydrate—if they aren’t sprayed often with water or are stored in the sun, you’ll end up with more needles under the tree than presents. After getting a fresh cut on the trunk, rush your tree home to get it into water as soon as possible. If you don’t plan on putting it up right away, store your tree in a cool place, like the garage, in a bucket of water.

Once you’re ready to deck the boughs, find a good quality tree stand. Dr. Kuhns noted, “The biggest mistake people make is getting a cheap tree stand that doesn’t hold enough water.” Those that require a hole drilled in the base of the trunk are good for providing stability, but they don’t affect the water intake. Keep replenishing with fresh water daily, and if possible, mix in floral preservative, which you can pick up at the florist, or at the Christmas tree lot. Make sure to place the tree in a cooler area of the house, away from heat sources and preferably away from the sun (or just keep the blind drawn). As long as your tree stays moist, it should last several weeks, maybe even until New Years.

For more on Christmas trees, consider:

Bob Vila’s Top 10 Artificial Trees
Real and Fake: A Christmas Tree Timeline
Bob Vila Radio: Picking a Tree