Water is the essential ingredient in keeping your real Christmas tree fresh

Clean water and plenty of it is the only essential ingredient for maintaining tree freshness.

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

Keeping your real Christmas tree fresh throughout the holiday season involves giving it proper care from the time you purchase it until it is disposed of. Before you set up your tree, make a fresh, straight cut across the base of the tree, removing a half-inch or more from the bottom. Why do we want to make a fresh cut? After the tree is harvested, resin begins to collect in the tree’s ducts, sealing off water-conducting tissue. Making a fresh cut removes the blocked resin and allows water to move into the trunk and eventually evaporating (transpire) from the foliage.

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.

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. 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 the use of 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


Tip sheets:


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

Michigan State University Michigan State University Close Menu button Menu and Search button Open Close