Tricks to Make Your Christmas Tree Last Longer

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Robert Pavlis

There is nothing quite like a real Christmas tree and there are things you can do to keep them fresh for a long time. I’ll give you tips for making them last and look at suggested additives to keep the tree fresh including commercial tree preservatives, molasses, sugar, bleach, soft drinks, aspirin, honey and fertilizer. Which of these work the best?

Christmas tree water
Water your tree before it dries out, Source: Eat Read Sleep

Does Sugar Water Work?

Sugar water is a common DIY solution for making trees last longer but it does not work.

Best Christmas Tree Water

What should you add to the water? The short answer is nothing. Testing has shown that neither commercial products nor DIY solutions work better than just plain old water.

The National Christmas Tree Association says “Should I add bleach, aspirin, fertilizer or other things to the water to make my tree last longer?

No! Research has shown that plain tap water is best. Some commercial additives and home concoctions can actually be detrimental to a tree’s moisture retention and increase needle loss. Water holding stands that are kept filled with plain water will extend the freshness of trees for weeks.”

Soil Science for Gardeners book by Robert Pavlis

A study that looked at commercial products that are added to the water found that all of the ones tested increased needle drop over just using plain water. These products do not work.

Don’t use any DIY solutions either. Things such as molasses, sugar, bleach, soft drinks, aspirin, honey, alcohol and fertilizer do not work.

 

chart comparing water to two commercial product - water had less needle drop
Water worked better than two commercial tree preservation products.

Do Anti-transpirant Sprays Work?

An anti-transpirant (also called anti-desiccant) is a spray that is applied to trees, especially evergreens, to prevent water loss through the needles. If you stop water loss, the trees should stay hydrated and last longer. There are various commercial products available including, Wilt-Pruf, Wilt Stop and Vapor Gard (these are Amazon links).

The claim is that the sticky film coats the leaf and prevents water loss. The problem is that stomata still work and that is where most of the water is lost. Studies have shown that anti-transpirant products don’t work for Christmas trees nor do they work very well for trees in your garden.

YouTube video

Start With a Fresh Tree

The needles should look green and healthy. Bend a needle – a fresh needled will snap like a fresh carrot. Shake the tree. It will drop some needles but if it drops a lot don’t buy it. Cutting your own tree is best.

Select the Right Kind of Tree

Some varieties of trees last longer than others. The Fraser fir is the longest lasting one for a home.

If you are after fragrance, select a balsam fir.

The Scotch Pine (also known as Scots pine) is very popular for its longer needles.

More Christmas Tree Myths: 22 Myths About Christmas Trees

Make a Fresh Cut

Store the tree outside in a cool shaded spot until you are ready. Don’t cut the bottom until you are ready to set it up.

Building Natural Ponds book, by Robert Pavlis

Cut the base right before setting up the tree. An old cut seals the pores in the wood and the tree stops sucking up water. A fresh cut fixes the problem. You only need to cut off about 1/4″, but more won’t harm the tree. Make sure it fits in the home.

Christmas tree showing a thin slice cut off the bottom
A 1/4″ slice will refresh the tree, source: Merry Christmas Trees

Myths about Cutting the Base

  • Make the cut at an angle – myth. An angle cut does not allow the tree to absorb more water.
  • Drill holes in the base – myth. Holes do not increase water uptake and can actually make things worse of the holes are not covered by water in the stand.
  • Install plastic tubes – myth. Water is absorbed by a thin layer right under the bark. Inserted tubes do nothing.
  • Shave off the bark so the wood is exposed – myth. This is the worst thing you can do. The xylem, which is the part of the tree that is responsible for sucking up water, is located just below the bark. If you damage it, or remove it, the tree can’t get any water.

Use the Right Stand

Most Christmas tree stands are too small and don’t hold enough water.  The stand should hold a quart of water for every inch of stem diameter. A 4-inch stem needs a stand that holds a gallon of water. The water level should always be 2″ above the bottom of the stem which requires a large reservoir.

christmas tree stand with tree in it
An example of a good sized tree stand, source Amazon

More Tips for Keeping it Fresh

Here are some other things to do to keep that real Christmas tree as fresh as possible.

  • Set up the tree away from any heating vents. This will prevent drying it out.
  • Don’t fertilize the tree.
  • Use a cooler room and if possible turn down the room temperature at night.
  • Use LED lights which run cooler than older incandescent lights.
  • Run a humidifier next to the tree

Christmas Tree Fires

This video shows you why it is so important to keep your tree hydrated. This is a demonstration showing how flammable a dry Christmas tree can be as opposed to a tree watered regularly. This test was conducted by the National Fire Protection Association and Underwriters Laboratories.

YouTube video

If the above video does not play try: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNjO3wZDVlA

There is a concern about real trees causing a house fire and each year you see examples of this on the news but the reality is that this is a very rare occurrence. The National Fire Protection Association reports that only 0.0004% of real Christmas trees catch fire.

Cut Flowers vs Cut Trees

When you try to keep cut flowers fresh it is recommended that you add a preservative to the water. Why is the advice for trees different?

A cut flower produces a chemical called “callose”, which is a sticky carbohydrate that plugs up the cut, thereby stopping water from entering the flower. Acidic compounds in the water prevent callose from sealing off the xylem. Christmas trees, and other woody plants, don’t produce callose and the xylem stays open as long as the cut does not dry out.

Keep adding an acidic preservative to your flowers, but don’t add anything to keep Christmas trees fresh.

Potted Christmas Tree

Is a potted Christmas tree a good idea?

It sounds like a great idea. Instead of killing a tree just to have a nice Christmas, you can plant it in your garden after Christmas and enjoy it for many years. Bert Cregg, Extension Specialist, working with Christmas tree growers in Michigan says that evergreens need a cool period during the winter to grow properly and they don’t like to come into your warm home for 6 weeks. If you’re willing to have the tree in your home for only 2 weeks and you have a place to plant it in spring, buying a potted Christmas tree is a good option.

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Robert Pavlis

I have been gardening my whole life and have a science background. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

12 thoughts on “Tricks to Make Your Christmas Tree Last Longer”

  1. I don’t like to put up my tree until mid December and leave it up until after Twelfth Night. But now trees are sold before Thanksgiving, so they are dropping needles by Christmas. I gave up and bought a metal one.

    Reply
  2. Can you please provide an explanation for why there are two trees in the video?

    Is it dry vs moist? Real vs fake? What’s the story?

    Reply
    • Thanks for the question – I have updated the post. The one on the left is dry and the one on the right is properly watered.

      Reply
  3. Can’t help thinking the sugar, molasses and honey are “feel good” wives tales as well but good God BLEACH.
    Anyway I’ll echo the sentiments of the mechanic very helpful to dispel the wifes concerns of needing to add sugar and find it on a page without a ton of marketing direct and to the point thank you Robert may you have a merry Christmas and happy and profitable New Year!

    Reply
  4. Thank you, I found this site super helpful as a mechanic the only reason I have green thumbs is because of oil and grease. So to come across a page that doesn’t try to cram a bunch of adds down your throat is just perfect. Thank you again, and may you enjoy your holidays.

    Reply
  5. Citric acid being a primary ingredient seems plausible. The US MSDS (material data safety sheet) shows the Miracle Gro Xmas Tree as having a pH of 2.5, fairly acidic.

    Reply
  6. Pretty sure there lawyers checked for loop holes so they wouldn’t have to list ingredients as it is probable something simple and a lucrative way to make money.

    Reply
  7. All of these are from the category of ‘feel good products’. A sort of emotional blackmail – to make you feel bad buying a Christmas tree without its ‘life preserving’ little packet.
    Last time I’ve seen such a packet it didn’t even say what are the substances contained, which is a bit surprising considering that children or pets could come in contact with the water from the tree stand.

    Reply
    • I tried to find the ingredients but couldn’t. Someone on Garden Professors said that is usually citric acid (ie lemon juice). If that is true it might be why they don’t need to list the ingredients–it is considered completely safe. The other reason they don’t list ingredients is that there are virtually no regulations for horticultural products.

      Reply

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