Selecting a live Christmas tree for your home is the fun part. The challenge is keeping it looking fresh through the holidays.

Picking a Tree

Like Christmas presents for your family, your fresh tree should be selected with care.

Photo Credit: David L. Morgan

Cut Tree Base

Make sure the trunk of your tree is straight so it’ll fit into the stand squarely.

Photo Credit: David L. Morgan

Water stand

Water stand

Photo Credit: David L. Morgan

Michael's Christmas Tree

Properly picking and caring for your live tree is just one of the many hints to keeping your holidays merry and bright.

Photo Credit: Jenny Hooks

Obviously caring for a live Christmas tree requires some extra attention so that it survives the dry environment of your home. But how do you do it? Here are a few hints to help your family enjoy your living tree throughout the yuletide season.

Select a “fresh” tree. In some locations, “freshness” means buying locally grown and recently shipped trees. In areas where Christmas trees aren’t grown locally, “freshness” may come down to a choice of species. Generally speaking, firs (Abies) hold their needles the longest, followed by pines (Pinus), then spruces (Picea).

If you’re picking from a tree lot, ask the seller where the trees were grown and when they were delivered. The closer you live to the location of where the trees were grown and the most recently they were delivered ensures that you’ll have the freshest tree possible. (And don’t be surprised if the best trees are the most expensive!) A newly delivered tree will be deep green and have few browning needles. Most needles should be soft to the touch and not fall off as you run your hand over the branch. (Although it’s normal for a few inner brown needles to drop – particularly in pines, which shed their older leaves in winter.) Don’t forget to also check the base of the tree – if it’s crooked, it won’t fit securely in your tree stand.

Remember the size of your house. It’s easy to fall in love with a gorgeous tree that shows great decorating potential. But be honest: Will the one you’re eyeing actually fit in your family room? Some people think that with a little “extra trimming” (read: “chopping”), they can fit a 12-foot pine in a room with 10-foot ceilings. But trimming a few low branches (which is sometimes necessary) is one thing. Hacking off a couple of feet to make it fit is another – and it’ll only make your tree look…well, chopped off and unattractive.

Take your tree’s interior destination into account, too – is it going in the corner of a room or in front of a window? Examine the tree from all angles to make sure that it’s full on all the sides that will be seen.

Keep the tree moist and fresh. Keeping your tree in its original fresh condition partly depends on the tree species, the time of delivery and the interior environment of your home. But there are good measures you can take to help extend the life of your Christmas tree once you have it inside.

The base of the tree seals itself quickly with resins after it’s been harvested, so I like to make a fresh cut about 2 inches above the butt, then plunge the tree into a stand filled with tap water (no additives required). Even though it’s been separated from its roots, the tree will continue to take up water, so be sure to replenish it frequently and replace the “stale” water that becomes gummy and resinous.

Indoor location also matters. Choose a spot away from drying air ducts and any heat sources like TVs, radiators and fireplaces. Otherwise your tree might dry out faster. And remember: Dried-out trees (as well as wreaths, swags and other greenery decorations) are fire hazards!

If you’re not going to put up your tree right away, store it in an unheated garage or shed or, if it’s cold outside, in a shady and sheltered location. Remember, your tree still needs water, so either put it in a bucket of water, or place it in a water-filled tree stand.

Recycle after Christmas. Most properly cared-for trees will last about five weeks before drying out, although some may need to come down sooner. No matter what the date is, take the tree down before it begins to drop needles – and recycle it. Many cities have locations where trees are chipped for mulch. You could also join forces with your neighbors and rent a chipper, then “return your trees to nature” by using the mulch in your yards – now that’s a true gardener’s holiday!