Keep Your Christmas Tree Fresh

My Christmas tree started dropping needles before Christmas last year. I’m tempted to buy an artificial tree. Is there some way to make sure my fresh tree stays intact until after Christmas?

Although every Christmas tree lot gets their trees about the same time, that does not mean they were all cut at the same time. Some may have been cut more than a month ago. Storage and handling after cutting is another important factor. Freezing temperatures and drying in transport can dry out needles on trees so that they fall quickly after being brought into the house.

It pays to ask questions, such as, were these trees transported on an open flat bed trailer or inside a closed van? Was there any kind of wind protection for the trees? Some vendors will even be able to tell you the approximate date when they were cut.

Certain varieties hold their needles better than others. Most firs such as noble, grand, frazier, alpine, nordmann, and douglas hold their needles better than spruce and pine. Although almost all trees will naturally have a few brown needles in the center of the tree, the outside green needles should not be easily dislodged by shaking, thumping or brushing the tree. Feel the needles to see if they are soft and flexible.

The sooner a tree is placed in a water-holding tree stand, the longer the needles will remain soft and flexible. So it pays to buy a tree early in the season. If you can’t bring it into the house for a while, store it in an unheated garage or shed instead of outside. Cut a quarter to a half inch off the bottom and place it into the stand or a bucket of water. If the end dries out for more than a few hours, a fresh cut should be made. This will allow the open tubes to absorb water more readily. A freshly recut Christmas tree can absorb a gallon of water in a day or two. As soon as the tree is inside, the water should be checked regularly and refilled so that the bottom of the trunk is always under water.

Anti-desiccant such as Wilt-Pruf covers needles with a rubberized coating which reduces water loss. Some nurseries can dip trees in anti-desiccant, or it can purchased in a spray can. Wilt-Pruf can also be used on landscape evergreen trees where they are exposed to drying winds. Flocking also reduces water loss on Christmas trees.

Another way to get a fresh tree is to cut one from one of the surrounding national forests. Check with nearby forest service offices to get a permit and find areas where cutting is allowed. There are also a number of local Christmas tree farms where live trees can be cut just before you bring them home.

Several different varieties of living, potted trees can be purchased and planted later outside. Smaller varieties like Hinoki Cypress, Alpine Fir and Mountain Hemlock will fit better into most landscapes than larger fir or spruce trees. They can only be kept inside for 10 to 12 days or they will start to grow and then be subject to freeze damage outside. Dig a planting hole right now and then plant it in the ground right after Christmas. Or if the tree starts to grow, keep it in the pot until spring and store it in an unheated garage or shed.


Allen Wilson

Allen has been writing about gardening for over 30 years. He is a retired professor of Horticulture.

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