Christmas trees are the centerpiece of the holiday season and most families like to put theirs up during Thanksgiving weekend. However, if it's not artificial, it can be difficult to keep it looking beautiful and smelling fresh through December. There are several Christmas tree additives that claim to make trees last longer but in general a Christmas tree just requires the same TLC as any other plant.
Where You Get It
Where a tree is purchased can greatly influence its longevity. For maximum staying power, take a trip out to a local tree farm and cut it fresh. The quicker the tree goes from the forest to the living room the longer it will last. Trees that are sold precut at the store were cut, transported to the store, and kept there until purchased. Each stage of the trip robs the tree of freshness. Buying a precut tree is less of a hassle and probably less expensive, but it is less like to make it from Thanksgiving to New Years.
What Kind You Get
There are a variety of species available at tree farms and in Christmas tree lots. Each type offers different benefits. Noble firs are a popular choice because of their symmetry, blue-green needles, and their ability to stay fresh. The Frasier fir gives off the best fragrance for the longest time span and also retains its needles longer than other options. Douglas firs are another great option that is commonly found in tree lots and are now farm raised. They fall somewhere in between the two other types of firs for aroma and longevity.
Which One You Get
If cutting a tree at a farm, look for a tree that has dimensions fitting its placement and saw away. When purchasing a precut tree, pick two or three with the right dimensions and then give each a little shake. If some brown needles fall and just a few (or no) green needles fall, that one is the keeper. Check the branches closer into the trunk of the tree; the branches should be flexible and not brittle. Hometalk expert Douglas Hunt says, " Test a tree for freshness by giving a small branch a gentle tug. If more than a few needles come out in your hand, pick another." If thin branches break easily, this is a sign that the tree was allowed to dry out at some point and may already be on a downhill slide.
How You Prep It
Have the store cut off the last inch to inch and a half of the stump. Wrap the new cut in a damp cloth then add a layer of plastic, such as a plastic shopping bag, to keep the stump as air tight as possible. Better yet, trim the stump just before placing it in the tree stand. Before tying a tree onto the roof of a car and toting it home, wrap it in a plastic or canvas tarp to prevent needle bruising and damage caused by wind.
Most tree lots will wrap the tree with netting or rope. This protects the limbs from breaking off but will not completely prevent damage. As soon as the tree arrives home, place the stump in approximately a gallon of water. If the tree stand is not ready, fill a bucket with water and stand the tree in it to prevent the stump from drying out.
Where You Put It
Once the tree is safely mounted in a stand, place it in the desired location. To preserve freshness and prevent drying, keep it out of the heat and light. This means no direct sunlight, keep the blinds closed, and lower the room temperature a few degrees. If the tree must be placed near a heating vent, try closing off that particular vent and keep trees at least five feet away from any kind of fireplace.
How You Decorate It
Switching to newer LED lights will also aid in keep the temperature cool around the tree. LEDs are about the same price as incandescent bulbs, but they give off less heat. This step is important since the lights rest directly on the tree limbs. Whenever possible, switch the lights off.
Other electronics such as train sets, battery operated candles, and musical decorations can also give off heat. Consider moving them away from the tree or keeping them shut off. A tree only needs to rise in temperature a few degrees before it starts to dry out.
When You Water It
The average five foot Christmas tree requires a gallon of water a day. If the tree stand cannot hold a full gallon, it will need to be refilled throughout the day. Christmas trees are in a state of dormancy before they are brought indoors. The temperature inside the home will wake up a very thirsty tree. Keeping up with watering a tree is the best treatment for Christmas tree longevity.
Once the base of the stump is allowed to dry out, the sap in the tree will seal the stump. This prevents the tree from absorbing any more water. If this happens a tree can sometimes be recovered by drilling large holes into the bottom of the stump to reopen the tree's vascular system, but this can be a messy task if the tree is already decorated and may not work in the end.
What You Add to It
Some websites offer up different combinations of additives such as bleach, soda pop, cut flower powders, that can be poured into the tree stand to lengthen a tree's freshness, however, the Arbor Day Foundation states this is a waste of time and money. Additionally, since most tree stands are open to allow the tree stump in, they can be a tempting tasting dish for any pets. Animals that drink from a tree stand can easily be poisoned by these additives.
When It's a Living Christmas Tree
A fully sustainable option is the living Christmas tree, but they have a few considerations of their own. While they are the freshest of the fresh trees, they cannot be kept indoors for more than a week to ten days. If they stay in comfortable room temperatures for too long they will fully acclimatize. Then, when it is time to replant outdoors, they will suffer damage from the drop in outdoor temperatures.
If the tree cannot be immediately planted, it should be stored in an outdoor/unheated building, just do not forget, it will still need about a gallon of water a day. Living trees also cannot be allowed to sit in water; the roots must be allowed to breathe. To keep it watered at a regular pace cover the top of the root ball or soil in the container with ice, replenish as it melts into the roots/soil.
Finally, choose a species of living tree that is a match for the climate. Most of the cut tree species are only hardy for higher altitudes and cooler/dryer temperatures. A non-native species is a lot less likely to survive as part of the landscaping.
A Final Note for After the Holiday
When it comes to disposing of your tree, Hunt says "After the holiday, put your tree to use in your garden by cutting off all the branches and using them as a winter mulch to cover your most tender plants."