Keeping your real Christmas tree fresh this holiday season

Plenty of water is the only essential ingredient for maintaining Christmas tree freshness.

The key to maintaining a fresh Christmas tree throughout the holiday season is giving the tree proper care from the time it is purchased until it is disposed of. Before you set up your tree, make a fresh, straight cut across the base of the tree and place the tree in a tree stand that holds a gallon of water or more. If the tree has been cut within the last six to eight hours, it will not need to be re-cut; however, any longer than that then the end should be re-cut. Make a straight cut across the trunk, removing 0.5 inches or more from the bottom.

Christmas tree stand
Choose a Christmas tree stand that has adequate water-holding capacity for the size of the tree they will hold. A stand should hold at least 1 quart of water per inch of diameter of the tree trunk.
Photo credit: Gary Chastagner, WSU

Consumers often select stands that are too small for their tree. Try to find a tree stand with adequate water-holding capacity for your tree. The water capacity listed on a stand’s label or box can be misleading. Usually they list the capacity of the reservoir when the stand is empty, but you also need to allow for the amount of water that will be displaced when the tree trunk is put in the stand. Cut Christmas trees will absorb a surprising amount of water, particularly during the first week. As a general rule, for each inch of stem diameter the tree will need a quart of water per day.

As an example, a tree with a 2-inch diameter trunk may initially use 2 quarts of water per day; a tree with a 4-inch diameter trunk may use more than 1 gallon per day. So when choosing a stand for an average tree, you will want to choose a stand that holds at least 1 to 1.5 gallons of water. In addition, make sure you are checking your tree stand at least daily to make sure the container holds enough water and refill it often to make sure the water does not fall below the level of the trunk bottom.

One of the most common questions Michigan State University Extension educators receive concerning Christmas trees relates to the use of additives in the Christmas tree stand. Some people have seen TV or newspaper advertisements for products that you add to the water in your tree stand. Others have concocted their own “home remedies” with ingredients such as sugar, aspirin, bleach and 7UP. Research in the state of Washington and North Carolina has shown that your best bet is plain tap water. Some of the home remedies such as bleach and aspirin caused heavy needle loss and should be avoided.

Remember, clean water and plenty of it is the only essential ingredient for maintaining tree freshness.

For more information on selecting and caring for your Christmas tree, see the following MSU Extension articles:

Dr. Cregg’s work is funded in part by MSU‘s AgBioResearch.