You spend hours searching for the perfect Christmas tree and only hope that it will keep its needles till Christmas day. With an estimated 28 million live Christmas trees to be sold this year, you’re not alone.
Fortunately, if you follow these simple instructions from Rick Dungey, Christmas tree expert with the National Christmas Tree Association, you have a good chance of maintaining the quality of your tree for three to four weeks, regardless of species.
- 1. Buy a fresh tree
To test for freshness, gently pull on the needles of the outer branches. If the needles come off easily or if the tree loses lots of green needles when it is tapped on the ground, move on. Also, avoid trees that are faded in color.
Because trees are dormant from late summer through winter, Dungey explains that tree lots don't have an advantage over you-cut-it trees when it comes to staying fresh.
- 2. Give it a fresh cut
When a tree is first cut, air gets into the plant tissue and interrupts the tree’s ability to absorb water, says Dungey. To re-prime the tree, cut off a half-inch slice from the base of the trunk. Cut straight across, never at an angle or in a V-shape, because doing so reduces the amount of water available to the tree. It also makes it harder for the tree stand to hold the tree. And no matter what Uncle Joe told you, never drill a hole in the base of the trunk thinking it will help the tree draw up more water.
- 3. Select the right tree stand
The NCTA recommends using a reservoir-type tree stand to keep trees fresh indoors and reduce needle loss. A tree stand should hold a gallon of water, or about one quart per inch diameter of the tree trunk.
Make sure the stand fits your tree. If you have to whittle the tree trunk to fit a too-small stand, the tree will not get as much water. That’s because the outer layers of the tree are where the most efficient uptake of water occurs, says Dungey.
- 4. Give it water
Most species of Christmas trees can go without water for as long as 6-8 hours after a fresh cut. Just make sure the surface remains clean and the cut end is not damaged by banging it against the ground. Once you get the tree home, keep it in a bucket filled with water and in a cool location until you bring it inside.
If you’re putting the tree in a stand right away, make sure the reservoir of the stand is kept full of water.
“The absorption rate of water varies from day to day,” says Dungey. “Many people worry if their tree absorbs a lot of water one day, a little the next, and then absorbs more the next day. This is normal. The tree could be full one day and need more water the next. It depends on how fast it loses moisture from its foliage.” To be safe, always top off the reservoir in the tree stand every day.
- 5. Keep it cool
Heat dries out trees, so keep your tree away from fireplaces, heat vents or even direct sunlight. You may want to go so far as to lower the temperature in the room or use a humidifier to keep the air moist.
Lights are okay for trees but do your tree a favor and use only lights that produce low heat, such as miniature lights. The lower the heat, the less the drying effect on the tree and the longer the needles will stay on.
This story was originally published on Dec. 1, 2015.