How to Keep Your Christmas Tree Fresh
Roger Cook has some tips to make sure a tree that’s been cut doesn’t dry out and become a fire hazard
Everyone tells me to put my Christmas tree in water right away, even if it’s been sitting on a trailer for who knows how long. Is there a magic time period for setting up the tree?
—Donald Kronenwetter, Wall, NJ
You can relax a bit. Once a Christmas tree has been cut down, the sap near the cut reacts with air and within 6 or 7 hours forms a plug that seals off the trunk. If the tree doesn’t show signs of being dried out when you buy it—check the needles on the tips of the branches; they should be flexible and firmly attached—then it will keep quite nicely outdoors for a few days in a cool, shady place until it’s time to set it up. Then, when you’re ready to move it indoors, take the following steps to ensure that your tree stays as fresh as possible through the holidays and doesn’t become a fire hazard.
With the tree still outdoors, trim an inch or two off the trunk to remove the sap plug and restore the tree’s ability to take up water. You may need to remove a few lower branches, too, so that the trunk rests firmly against the bottom of the stand. Leave the tree wrapped in netting; it’s easier to carry into the house that way with the stand securely attached.
Indoors, find a spot at least 3 feet from any heat source, including radiators, fireplaces, air vents, and space heaters. Then set the tree upright, remove the netting, and fill the stand with cold tap water. Adding aspirin or sugar is pointless because the tree is dormant.
During the tree’s first 24 hours in the house, make sure to check the stand’s reservoir regularly—at least a couple of times a day. A tree can easily suck up a gallon or more of water at that time. If the stand does go dry, the tree will form a new sap plug and won’t be able to stay hydrated, and then will drop needles constantly and become highly combustible.
Even with the most diligent care, a cut tree will stay fresh for only three to four weeks. When the month is up, take it outside, remove the branches, and lay the boughs over your garden beds to protect them until the first days of spring.
Shown: Roger Cook inspects the branches of a cut blue spruce to make sure it’s fresh enough to pass muster as a Christmas tree.