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christmas tree tips

Proper Christmas tree care is essential if you want to keep your tree from drying to a crisp before Santa arrives.

My family loves Christmas trees so much that our hearts jump when we see the first tree tents go up before Thanksgiving. And it's all we can do to keep ourselves from bringing one home the day they go on sale. 

In years past, we've actually sat in the parking lot the day after Thanksgiving, waiting for the Christmas tree lot to open. But we won't make that mistake again.

We've had too many Christmas mornings with the tree so dried out that we've been afraid to turn on the lights. Now we try to wait until at least three weeks before Christmas to get the tree. 

As you can see, we've become experts on prolonging Christmas tree life. It's our own little Christmas miracle. And we'd like to share our Christmas tree tips with you.

1. christmas tree tips: when to buy your tree.

  • Do as we say, not as we do - wait until two weeks before Christmas to get the tree (if you possibly can). If you can't - well, keep the vacuum cleaner handy.
  • Is it better to buy a pre-cut tree (the ones in the lot) or to cut your own? Common sense tells you that trees are fresher if you march out to the farm and cut it yourself. With commercial lots, you never know how long the trees have been cut or how they've been handled enroute.
  • If you cut your own, go to a reputable grower who shapes his trees and irrigates his lot, especially if you live in a drought area. Use the same freshness tests in the field as you would use in a commercial lot (see below). Just because the tree is still stuck in the ground doesn't mean it's not stressed.

2. christmas tree tips: which type of tree?

Which type of Christmas tree lasts longer? Most species of trees hold up well if you buy them fresh, so just choose what you like. Follow these steps to make a healthy and economical choice:

  • Check it out: The tree shouldn't look wilted or have brown needles.
  • Bend the needles: If the tree is fresh, the needles will bend instead of break.
  • Shake the tree: It's natural for some needles to fall, but not too many.
  • Measure: Get a tree that's at least a food shorter than the ceiling that will eventually be above it. Remember that the stand will add height. And since you pay by the foot, you don't want to trim that extra off at home.
  • Examine the trunk: The trunk should be straight so that it will fit in the stand. Also the diameter of the trunk should fit easily in the tree stand. If you have to whittle away bark to make it fit, the tree is just going to dry out even sooner.

Once you've selected your tree, ask the attendant to cut one inch off the base at the lot. A fresh cut enables the tree to take up water. As soon as you get home, place the tree in a pail of water because the sap will seal the pores again in 4 to 6 hours.

If you aren't going to put the tree up right away, put it in a cool place that's protected from sun and wind. Just before you put the tree in the stand, cut another half inch off the trunk.

3. christmas tree tips: keeping it fresh.

Here's how to care for your tree to keep it from drying out:

  • Location, location, location: Place the tree in a location that's away from all heat sources and sun.
  • Protection: Put plastic sheeting under the stand to protect the floor in case of spillage.
  • Hydration: Place the tree in a stand that holds at least a gallon of water and fill it with warm water to keep pitch from forming.
  • Vigilance: Check the water supply a couple of time a day - especially in the beginning when the tree can absorb a gallon a day. Check twice as often if you have pets who might consider the tree stand a new water bowl.
  • Caution: If you let the water level drop below the cut, sap will form and you'll have to remove the tree and make a fresh cut. This is tricky if you've already decorated the tree. (But we've done that, too.)

4. christmas tree tips: fire safety.

As long as the Christmas tree is taking up water, it's OK and fire safe in your home. None of the additives such as aspirin, sugar, etc., really help much - just keep that water coming. Other fire safety steps include:

  • Spraying the tree with an antitranspirant that keeps water from evaporating from needles.
  • Using treatments that retard flammability.
  • Using UL approved lights.
  • Using miniature lights (they burn cooler).
  • Using nonflammable decorations.
  • Never leaving a lighted tree unattended.

Follow these steps and hopefully, you'll have a Christmas tree that you can actually light on Christmas morning.

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About the Author

Tara Aronson

Tara Aronson is a native Californian. Having grown up in San Diego, she studied journalism and Spanish to pursue a career in newspaper writing. Tara, whose three children - Chris, Lyndsay, and Payne - are the light of her life, now lives and writes in Los Angeles. She also regularly appears on television news programs throughout the U.S.