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How to Keep a Christmas Tree Alive


Picking a fresh Christmas tree is one of the best parts of the season. However, you’ll need to learn Christmas tree care to keep the magic going all month long. This post will show you how to keep a Christmas tree alive throughout the whole holiday season.

How to keep a Christmas tree alive and make it last

For centuries, the Christmas tree has been an honoured tradition for the holiday season. The pagans first brought in evergreen boughs during the winter solstice to remind themselves of the greenery of spring.

Taking inspiration from the pagans, the Christmas tree originated in Germany. The first Christmas tree was said to belong to Martin Luther, who was in awe of the brilliance of the stars among evergreens. To recreate the beauty, he placed a tree in his home and decorated it with lighted candles.

The German settlers in Pennsylvania brought this tradition to America, erecting their first trees in 1747. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Christmas trees rose in popularity, and people began decorating their own.

To keep this brilliant tradition going, grab a fresh tree from your local seller. Many people avoid the mess of a real tree, but with the proper Christmas tree care, you can lose very few needles. Then you have a fresh, wonderful-smelling tree that’s much better for the environment.

Keep on reading for all my tips on how to keep a Christmas tree alive.

Christmas tree rows
I worked as a Christmas tree seller for many years, and have gained lots of knowledge about Christmas tree care as a result.

Quick Tips for Caring for a Real Christmas Tree

  • The best tree starts with selection. Buy a fresh tree and test for needle retention. Gently tug along the branch; only a few needles should fall off.
  • Christmas trees must be placed in water 6-8 hours after being cut down. If you’re buying them from a lot, ask the seller to cut off the end 1-2 inches.
  • Check the water levels of your Christmas tree every day. Don’t let it dry out!
  • Keep your tree away from heat sources to stop it from drying out.
  • Add a humidifier if your tree is in a dry room or climate.

How to Keep a Christmas Tree Alive

Your perfect Christmas tree is only perfect if it lasts through the season! With these tips for caring for a real Christmas tree, you will be able to choose a tree that is fresh, as well as learn how to keep it alive and beautiful throughout the holidays.

Pick the Freshest Tree Possible

Head to a local tree farm and cut your own for the freshest tree. If you buy your tree from a lot, there is a simple test to help you decide if it is fresh enough to take home. The last thing you want is for all the needles to drop as soon as you hang your decorations.

Test tree freshness by holding a branch tip firmly between your thumb and forefinger; pinch the branch slightly higher with the opposite hand and slide your fingers up the branch against the grain. The needles should not come off the branch. (As a side note, this is the easy way to remove leaves from woody herbs like rosemary, sage, and thyme.)

Now that you know it’s fresh, make sure that you choose a tree that is right for your space with the help of this guide: How to Choose the Right Fresh Christmas Tree for Your Family.

caring for a real Christmas tree
Christmas trees begin drying out as soon as they leave the tree farm.

Make a Fresh Cut

Keep your tree fresh by cutting a 1-2 inch thick slice off the base of the trunk before placing it in water. You may not have a saw handy, so ask if they can cut it at the tree lot before you take it home. Most sellers will automatically make a fresh cut for you.

Get the tree in the water right away if possible. Otherwise, you can leave it for 6-8 hours before you will need to make another fresh cut. If you can’t erect your Christmas tree right away, try to place it in a bucket of water and leave it somewhere unheated. A garage will protect it from wind and avoid freezing the water.

Water, Water, Water

Christmas trees drink LOTS of water so be sure to check the water levels daily. Purchase a stand that will hold enough water. The box should give an estimate of how much water it holds, but remember, that won’t count the water displacement when the trunk is in it.

As a general rule, a tree drinks 1 quart of water for every inch in diameter. A tree trunk 3 inches wide will drink 3 quarts of water a day. Keep this in mind when buying a tree and stand.

Display your fresh Christmas tree out of direct sunlight and away from heat vents. Do not let the reservoir in the tree stand dry out ever. All of these things dry out the tree more rapidly and speed its demise.

how to keep a Christmas tree alive
Cutting a Christmas tree down right at the farm is a must-try experience.

Help! My Christmas Tree is Not Drinking Water

Christmas trees need a fresh cut before you bring them inside. It can only be out of water for 6-8 hours before you need to make another cut to the base of the trunk to encourage it to drink more water. Most sellers will automatically cut the base of the trunk for this reason.

While it may be a hassle, and messy, cutting 1-2 inches off the base of the trunk will encourage the tree to drink water.

Living Christmas Tree Care

An increasingly popular choice for Christmas trees is to purchase a potted living tree. If you decide to get a living Christmas tree this year, plan on keeping it in the house for no more than a few days. The dry, warm air may be lovely for you, but it takes a toll on an evergreen.

Keep it Outside

Once you have celebrated with your tree, it’s time to set it back outside. You don’t need to plant it right away, which is good because some areas might be hard with frozen soil! But even setting it back into its natural environment should be done with caution. It is important that the tree be re-acclimatized to outdoor conditions gradually when returning outdoors.

Water Well

Place it in an unheated, sheltered location for a day or so for the transition. After that, water it well and take it back outside. If the ground is not frozen, plant it. If the ground is frozen, protect the root ball by insulating it in a moistened mulch or straw pile until it thaws outside.

What to Do After Christmas

With these tips on how to keep a Christmas tree alive, your fresh tree will look gorgeous for the holidays and provide your family with plenty of enjoyment. What should you do after Christmas?

Look up your local tree recycling programs. Some have a roadside pickup, while others have central drop-off locations. I know of at least one city that has a great program where you can take your tree to a goat farm and stay to watch the goats chow down. They go after the trees like crazy, and they will eat all the needles and branches right down to the trunk!

Or you can always get a bit crafty! Why not make some of these fun projects with your recycled Christmas tree?

Frequently Asked Questions About Christmas Tree Care

When it comes to people wondering how to keep a Christmas tree alive, I get a lot of questions. Reference this quick guide to help figure out how to care for your tree.

What do you put in Christmas tree water to keep the tree fresh?

You may have seen advertisements for Christmas tree food or other homemade recipes to help keep your tree fresh. But don’t add anything to your water! Additives such as bleach, aspirin, sugar, or anything advertised for Christmas trees are completely unnecessary. In fact, some may harm the tree. Just plain water is all your tree needs to make it through the holiday season.

How do you keep a Christmas tree from drying out?

Every single day, check the water levels of your tree. Your tree trunk should always be submerged in at least 2 inches. A Christmas tree stand should hold a minimum of 1 quart of water, or you will notice yourself refilling it multiple times a day.

Besides lots and lots (and lots) of watering, don’t let your tree get too hot. Consider lowering the temperature of the room your tree will call home. This may mean placing it in a room you don’t spend too much time in. Keep it away from all heating sources, such as fireplaces, heating vents, and direct sunlight.

If your home is naturally dry, consider adding a humidifier to the room to help prevent your tree from drying out.

What do you do if your Christmas tree doesn’t drink water?

If you’re checking the water levels and notice it’s not changing, your tree is likely not drinking any water. This means you will need to make another fresh cut. When you cut a tree, resin seeps out and can block the pores that intake water.

Upon purchasing, the seller should make a fresh cut to help them absorb water. If you need to make one yourself, the cut should be at least 1-2 inches.

Is it normal for needles to fall out of the Christmas tree?

A Christmas tree will naturally drop needles throughout the holidays. But if you notice it’s dropping a TON, your tree is dried out. Water well and keep it away from heat to prevent needle loss.

When choosing a Christmas tree, make sure it’s fresh. Fresh trees should only lose a couple of needles when you pull along the branches. You can tap the tree on the ground if it’s not too big and see how many needles fall off.

As your tree ages, it will drop more and more needles. You want to try and take the tree down before it dries up entirely, or cleanup will be a big chore!

best type of christmas tree

Can you overwinter a Christmas tree?

You cannot overwater a Christmas tree. They need lots of water inside the home, especially during their first week, so always keep the stand full of water.

The general rule is that you need a quart of water for every inch in diameter. For example, a trunk 2 inches wide will drink 2 quarts of water daily. This rule helps you pick the suitable size stand and tree to match each other.

How long can Christmas trees last without water?

Christmas trees can last 6-8 hours without water before they will begin to dry out. While transporting, keep the surface of the fresh-cut clean and avoid any damage.

When at home, leave it in water and the garage until you can bring it inside to set up. If it’s more than 6-8 hours later, you must make another fresh cut to the tree.

Do Christmas trees need sugar water?

Many wives’ tales will suggest adding sugar or aspirin to a tree to help revive it or encourage it to drink more water. But you don’t need to add anything to your water. This likely comes from the idea of adding sugar to vases as flower food. Your Christmas tree is so big it won’t need the sugar to stay alive for a few weeks.

Stephanie and kiddo at Christmas tree farm

Do you have any more questions about how to keep a Christmas tree alive? Drop them in the comments down below, and I’ll answer them as soon as I can. Until then, Merry Christmas!

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