Making your real Christmas tree last through the holidays

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

A hand pulling on the needles of a Christmas tree.
Photo 1. The pull test is a quick and easy way to assess the freshness of a real Christmas tree. Photo by Bert Cregg, MSU.

Nothing says the holidays like having a real Christmas tree in the house. However, surveys indicate that the potential mess of pine needles on the floor often deters would-be real tree buyers. Michigan State University Extension reminds consumers that the keys to keeping the needles on your tree while it is on display in your house can be summarized as: fresh tree, fresh cut, fresh water.

Fresh tree

Starting with a fresh tree is essential to good needle retention and tree keepability. The best way to ensure a fresh tree is to cut one yourself at one of the many choose and cut farms located throughout Michigan. Use the Michigan Christmas Tree Association website to find a farm near you.

If you are not able to get your tree up right away, be sure to keep the tree in a cool, protected spot such as a garage, with the cut end in a bucket of water. If you buy a tree from a tree lot or a garden center, you can check the tree for freshness by doing the pull test. Gently pull on a shoot with your thumb and fingers; if the tree is fresh, you should not have any needles come off in your hand (Photo 1).

Fresh cut

Cut 0.5 to 1 inch off the base of the tree right before you put it in the tree stand to help the tree resume water uptake (Photo 2). After trees are cut at the farm, the cut end will begin to dry out and resin can clog the water conducting tissues in the trunk. These factors will limit water uptake, so re-cutting the end aids in allowing the tree to take up water and keeping the tree hydrated.

A man cuts the base off of a Christmas tree.
Photo 2. Re-cut the base of the tree before putting it in the tree stand to help the tree resume water uptake. Photo by Bert Cregg, MSU.

Fresh water

A fresh tree can use up to 1 quart of water per day for each inch of diameter on the cut end. A typical 7-foot-tall tree may have a 3-inch trunk diameter, so will need up to 3 quarts of water per day. If your tree is taking up a lot of water, this is actually a good sign and indicates the tree is fresh and hydrated.

Be sure to replace the water that is used each day and don’t allow the stand to dry out. Do not add sugar, aspirin, bleach or floral preservatives to the water; plain tap water is all that is needed to keep your tree fresh.

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

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