It’s two days before Christmas, and our tree, which stood so bright and bold only a week before, is now brown, droopy, and definitely doesn’t make you feel “Christmasy.”
So, just hours before opening presents – and hosting a large family Christmas dinner – we were forced to scour the city for a new tree, bring it home, and redecorate it.
Look, we’re not the Griswolds or anything, but as a family, we love the fragrant scent of a live Christmas tree, as well as the traditions and memories they can help create.
Sure, artificial trees are easy to care for, and some may even look the part, but they just don’t say “Christmas” quite like a real tree does. And herein lies the problem.
What’s the best way to avoid putting yourself in a similar situation? How can you keep your Christmas tree as fresh as possible, for as long as possible?
When you get down to basics, there are really only two major steps to keeping your Christmas tree as fresh as possible.
Step 1: Be Choosy
Think of your Christmas tree as a relatively long-term commitment. Like most families, you’ll likely shop for yours right after Thanksgiving, and it will share your home for 30-40 days.
With this in mind, finding a perfect Christmas tree is easiest early in the season (right around Thanksgiving), and is almost always going to be found at a Christmas tree farm. Or if you have the ability to cut your own, this is even better.
But I can hear the cries of agony now, “It’s so hard to get the whole family out in the cold, drive a long way to the Christmas tree farm, and then cut it down!
Forget that! We’ll just take a short trip to the nearest Christmas tree lot and be done with it.”
Hey, it’s your call, but don’t complain when your tree is completely dried out two days before Christmas, and your children are breaking your heart.
But why are “corner Christmas tree lots” such a poor choice? The primary reason is that there is no reliable way to tell how long the trees have been out of the ground.
In some instances, it may have only been a few days or so, while in others, it could have been a couple of weeks. And it goes without saying that the longer the tree has been out of the ground, the more prone it will be to drying out.
But if you absolutely must visit one of these lots, here’s some advice on how to choose the freshest tree.
First, your tree should be green, with a minimal number of browning needles.
Second, its needles also need to be flexible and healthy, which you can check by running a hand through a branch to see how many green needles drop to the ground.
You can also check the tree’s freshness by picking it up a few inches off the ground, and then dropping it on its stump. When you do this, a few of the inside needles will likely fall to the ground, but if its outer needles are falling as well, you should choose another tree.
If you experience this same scenario with several trees on the lot, then it’s highly recommended that you leave and visit another.
Step 2: The Three P’s – Preparation, Placement, and Preservation
The truth is, if you take a little extra time to properly maintain your tree, it should easily last up to 4-5 weeks.
However, if you don’t plan on putting your Christmas tree up as soon as you bring it home, you can maximize its life by cutting an inch off the bottom of its trunk, wrapping a wet towel around it, and storing it in a cool (not cold) place.
Related: How to Save On Holiday Decorations
Cutting the trunk causes your tree’s pores to open, and allows it to absorb water much more efficiently. Most Christmas tree farms and lots will perform this step for you.
After this, there’s one final step before bringing your new Christmas tree into the house: Trimming the base. Measure up the trunk about 6-8 inches and clear any branches that are in the way. This will allow it to fit into a stand more easily, as well as to place gifts underneath.
Once the above has been completed, it’s time to bring your tree inside. You’ll want a long-sleeved shirt and a good pair of leather gloves for this part because the tree’s needles can be quite sharp.
Speaking of needles, if you wrap your tree in an old sheet prior to carrying it in, it can drastically reduce the number of needles you’ll have to pick up afterward.
After your tree is inside, immediately place it in its stand, and fill it with at least one gallon of warm water (warm water can be better absorbed by your tree).
Avoid placing your tree near heat sources such as vents, radiators, fireplaces, and television sets, as these will cause it to dry more quickly, in addition to posing a fire hazard.
When you were at the Christmas tree farm or lot, they probably tried to sell you a preservation solution, though there are mixed reports as to whether or not they actually help.
Instead of buying your own, there are numerous recipes online that you can make yourself, one of which can be found here.
The key to keeping your tree fresh for as long as possible is maintaining hydration. Make sure its base is covered in water, and that you regularly replace any water your tree has consumed.
It’s important to remember that your tree will be especially “thirsty” the first few days, and it isn’t unusual for it to drink as much as a gallon of water during this time.
If you fail to keep the base covered in water, it can run out in as little as six hours, and will then form a “seal” of pitch over the cut.
If this occurs, your tree will not be able to continue absorbing water, and the only way to rectify this will be to re-cut the base, which can be tricky if you’ve already decorated your tree.
A final recommendation would be to switch from regular to LED lights, which provides two really big benefits.
The first is that they generate much less heat and will not dry out your tree as much as traditional lights. Second, they also use much less power, which will make a big impact on your energy consumption throughout the Holiday season.
Looking for Additional Christmas Tree Recommendations?
Did you know that some species of trees are better suited to certain climates, or that some can hold heavier ornaments than others? To be honest, neither did I. That’s why I’d highly recommend that you check out National Christmas Tree Association's website to learn about this, and much more.
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