Caring for your Christmas tree

By Dawn Pettinelli - UConn Home & Garden Education Center
Featured Article - posted Wed., Nov. 28, 2012
- Contributed Photo

While artificial trees remain popular with many people for many reasons, I take heart that 13 million American households (2009 USDA Census of Horticultural Specialties) will choose to celebrate the holiday season with a real, live, North American-grown Christmas tree. With an increasing number of folks concerned about supporting local farmers, searching out nearby farmers’ markets and CSAs, and also clamoring for local - or at least regionally-supplied - goods and services, there is no reason for not purchasing fresh, living trees and greens to display and admire throughout this holiday season. Yes, artificial trees offer convenience, but much like fast food, their rapid set-up and break-down may not give us time to reflect on the wonders and joyousness and the actual reason for celebrating the Christmas season.

Many families make selecting a tree part of their annual holiday celebrations. Local Christmas tree farms are a great place to get that really fresh tree – especially when you cut it down yourself. It makes sense that trees most recently cut will hold their needles longest. Whether you are looking to cut your own tree, choose a live tree and have it cut down for you, purchase a fresh, pre-cut one, or even buy a living tree that you can plant, you can find a listing of Connecticut Christmas tree farms at The various farms throughout the state offer different tree species, although the balsam fir seems to be most popular, and some farms hold holiday events, like hay or sleigh rides, for tree-seekers.

Those not able to visit a Christmas tree farm will find pre-cut trees available at numerous locations throughout the state. Depending on the temperatures and how long ago the trees were cut, they tend to vary in freshness. It is a good idea to examine previously-cut trees for dryness. Do this by running your fingers along a few branches. This should not cause the needles to fall off. If the tree is beginning to lose needles when you purchase it, you can be sure many more will drop off once inside a warm, dry home. When selecting your previously-cut tree, don’t be afraid to ask how long ago the trees were harvested.

Once you get your tree home, cut an inch off the bottom stem and immediately place it in a bucket of water. Either leave it in a shaded spot outdoors, weather permitting, or bring it into a cool garage or cellar until you are ready to place it in your tree stand and decorate it. It should be kept where temperatures will remain above freezing.

A good Christmas tree stand not only holds your tree securely, but also will contain enough water for your thirsty tree. Typically trees will require about a quart of water per inch of trunk diameter. So that would mean a tree with a 4-inch base diameter will take up a gallon or so of water every day. Your stand should be able to hold at least a 24-hour supply of water. Make one last cut of a half inch or so off of the base before setting the tree into the stand. Do not bruise or compact the butt end of the tree, or set it in the stand caked with dirt or debris. A clean, fresh-cut end will ensure that water can be taken up to keep the tree hydrated.

Some folks claim that trees last longer if the old water is removed each day and replenished with fresh water. Others feel that using floral preservatives, either purchased or DIY, will extend the life of the tree. There really isn’t good evidence that either of these techniques will prolong tree freshness more than just seeing that the stand always has enough water in it.

Your tree will retain its freshness longer if kept in a cool room, out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources like radiators and wood stoves. Well-watered trees are also more fragrant.

Live trees are an excellent choice if you have a place in the yard for a fairly sizeable evergreen tree. Do a little research to find out which species of tree would work best in your yard. Generally balled and burlapped, or containerized trees, from 3 to 5 feet, would be not too difficult to lift and move, and be most likely to survive.

Always dig a hole for planting before the ground freezes and, depending on the weather, maybe even before purchasing the tree. Cover the hole with a board and store the soil somewhere above freezing.

Live trees can have their root balls wrapped in plastic before bringing them indoors or plan on setting the tree in a large tub or other watertight container. The roots should be kept moist at all times. You don’t want to keep a live tree in a warm room for more than one week, as it will break dormancy. The tree can be stored where temperatures are cool but above freezing until you are ready to display it. After the holidays, move it back to a cool area to acclimate for a few days before planting it outdoors. Water and mulch well when planting.

Your Christmas tree is an important part of the holidays. Do your best to keep it looking good. For questions about selecting or caring for Christmas trees, or any other home and garden question, call the UConn Home and Garden Education Center, toll-free, at 860-486-6271, visit, or contact your local Cooperative Extension Office.

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