So you decided to be traditional this year and buy a real Christmas tree, but you don’t know the first thing about how to care for one? Not to worry! We’re here to help! Follow this advice to keep your natural tree looking fresher longer.
Taking Your Tree Home
Before you load your tree onto the top of your car, be sure to wrap it up in a tarp or burlap tree cover. Unless you have just a short, slow, drive, wind speed can do serious damage to a tree. Aim the bottom of the tree toward the front of your vehicle to protect the needles from getting blown off, and most importantly, make sure you tie it down securely! The last thing you want is for your tree to go crashing through someone else’s windshield. Take an ample amount of rope with you, or a good set of winching tie-down straps. Bring a blanket along, too, to protect the roof of your car from getting scratched up.
Setting It Up
Before you head out to buy your tree, make sure you have an appropriate tree stand. Different stands hold the tree steady in different ways. The most important thing is that the stand you have fits the tree you want. If you have a relatively small stand, don’t buy a tree with a massively thick trunk. Whittling away the edges of a tree to fit a too-small stand is never a good idea. Likewise, though most tree stands have screws to secure a tree in place, make sure your stand isn’t so large that these won’t reach your trunk.
Unless you cut the tree yourself within a couple of hours of setting it up, you will need to cut about an inch from the bottom of the trunk before putting it in its stand. Be sure the cut is straight and level so your tree will stand up straight. Some tree sellers will make this cut for you if you ask. Do not drill holes in the trunk. This has no benefit.
The most important thing to remember is to keep your tree well-watered. A Christmas tree can absorb as much as a gallon of water or more during the 24 hours after it is cut, and a quart or more each day thereafter. Use cold water, and never allow the water in your tree stand fall below the tree base. Keeping the water level constant will prevent dropped needles and dry, droopy branches. Enough moisture will also keep the tree smelling great.
If you do allow the water pan to become empty, dried sap will form a scar over the base of the tree, sealing out water. To prevent the tree from drying out too quickly, you will need to take it down, cut another inch from the bottom of the trunk, and set it up again. This is definitely not worth the hassle, when the need to do so can be easily prevented by consistent watering.
Do not use additives, such as floral preservatives, molasses, sugar, bleach, soft drinks, aspirin, or honey in the water. No matter what you may have heard, these are completely unnecessary, and in some cases, harmful. Your tree will stay fresh enough as long as you provide enough clean, cold, pure water.
A properly watered Christmas tree does not present any particular fire hazard, though you should be careful not to set it up too close to fire places, wood stoves, furnace vents, or where the needles might end up in electrical sockets. Keeping the tree away from heat sources will also make it last longer.
Decorating Your Tree
Use only UL approved lights, electrical cords, and electrical decorations on trees, and inspect electrical cords and lights for damage annually before using. Always turn off Christmas tree lights before you go to bed or leave the house.
Be sure to supervise pets and children around the tree to prevent them from accidentally toppling it and becoming injured or creating other safety hazards.
Disposing of Your Tree
Eventually, the time will come take down your tree for the season. You may decide based on a specific date — for instance New Year’s Day or Epiphany, if that is your family’s tradition — or you may decide to enjoy your tree for a while longer.
If you keep your tree much beyond Christmas, be sure to monitor it for dryness. Even if you water it regularly, it will eventually dry out, becoming unsightly, and a potential fire hazard. Be sure to disconnect all lights and other electrical decorations prior to removing them from the tree. Never burn a Christmas tree in your fireplace or wood stove. Pine tree sap can flare up and cause a chimney fire. Be sure to recycle your tree, if possible. You can either chip your tree into mulch yourself, or donate it to a local program that does so for parks and other public spaces.