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 looks, feels or smells like the holidays quite like having a real Christmas tree in the house. However, surveys indicate that the potential mess of pine needles dropping on the floor deters would-be real tree buyers. Michigan State University Extension offers three simple steps to consumers to help keep your trees needles on the tree and minimize post-holiday cleanups.

#1: Fresh tree

Starting with a fresh tree is essential to good needle retention. 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 in your house right away, be sure to store the tree in a cool, protected space such as a garage with the cut end submerged 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).

#2: 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 hydrated tree will hold its needles longer than a dried out tree. 

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.

#3: 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 staying fresh and hydrated.

Be sure to replace the water that the tree has used each day and don’t allow the stand or cut tree end to dry out. You do not need to add any extra supplements to the water. Do not add sugar, aspirin, bleach or floral preservatives. Research has shown plain tap water is all that is needed to keep your tree fresh.

Follow these three simple steps to keep your real tree fresh throughout the holiday season.

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


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