A fire place and a glass display case

Oh, Christmas Tree!

As tempting as a pricey, artificial pre-lit Christmas tree may be, few things about the holidays are as satisfying as a fresh, real Christmas tree.

A fire place and a glass display case, with Christmas tree

Photo: FindingHomeOnline.com

Fresh test. Gently grasp a branch between your thumb and forefinger and pull it toward you. Very few needles should come off in your hand if the tree is fresh. Shake or bounce the tree on its stump. You should not see an excessive amount of green needles fall to the ground. Some loss of interior brown needles is normal and will occur over the life of a tree.

Keep it fresh. The best secret for keeping your tree fresh is water, water, water. Once you get your tree home you want to cut 1/4-inch off the end and immediately put it into water.

Be sure to store your tree in a cool, shaded place out of the sun such as a covered porch or garage until you are ready to bring it into the house.

Never allow your tree to run out of water. If a fresh tree is properly cared for and watered, it should stay fresh through New Year’s Day.

Additives. The National Christmas Tree Association does not endorse any additive to the tree’s water. Your tree will stay fresh with just plain water.

Whoops. Within four to six hours of exposure, the tree will form a sap seal over the stump and it will not absorb water. If you forget to make a fresh cut and now the tree is all set up and decorated, do this: Remove the water from the stand (use a turkey baster to suck it out). Now drill holes into the side of the trunk below the water level. Immediately refill with water making sure none of the holes are above the water line.

Size. When choosing a tree remember the most important characteristic is water capacity. A good rule-of-thumb is one quart for every inch in diameter of the tree’s trunk. For example, the average six-foot tree has a trunk with a four-inch diameter, so the tree stand should hold one gallon of water.

Proper fit. You should also make sure the stand fits the tree. If it is too big or too small it might cause the tree to tip over. Never trim the sides of the trunk to fit in a stand.

Fire hazard. The National Fire Protection Association tracks fires and their causes. According to their data, of all residential fires real Christmas trees are involved in less than 1/10 of one percent (0.1%). Sensational blazing trees on the evening news are often doused in a flammable liquid to create a show, or are very old and dried out.

Why real? If the nostalgia of a fresh, fragrant tree is not reason enough to go natural, consider these facts:

  • Artificial trees will last for six years in your home (got storage space?), but for centuries in a landfill.
  • One to three seedlings are planted in the U.S. for every harvested Christmas tree—a total of 41 million were planted in winter/spring 2013, alone.
  • Ninety-three percent of real Christmas trees harvested are recycled in community programs providing mulch for landscape and replenishing the earth’s soil.

A group of snow covered ground

An industry. There are close to 15,000 farms growing Christmas Trees in the U.S., and over 100,000 people are employed full or part-time in the industry.

Caution. Never burn a tree in a fireplace or wood stove. Pine trees have a lot of sap which can flash and also create a chimney fire.

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9 replies
  1. G says:

    When my mother’s asthma got so bad that the scent of a real Christmas tree began to trigger attacks, friends surprised us with the gift of a beautiful artificial tree. That tree was with us for over 20 years. It outlived both my parents and if it hadn’t been destroyed by flooding from storm Sandy, I would be setting it up in my living room this Christmas. Much as I love a real tree, at $30/foot for something that is going to last only a few weeks, the limited budget just does not allow for such a luxury. But after all, Christmas is what’s on display in your heart, not in your living room decor. I’d rather donate a portion of what the tree would have cost to a local food bank so that some other family can have a nice holiday dinner. The need this year is greater than ever. So many of the same people who used to always donate now need help themselves that for the first time there was not enough to meet the need this Thanksgiving and some families had to be turned away with nothing.

  2. Kimberley says:

    If you live in a rental, depending on who you’re renting from, artificial is your only option. I moved into an apartment building just over ten years ago and lived there with my sister and her roommate for a while. We had one Christmas in that building, with our only option for a tree being artificial, because the lease said that real trees were a fire hazard.

  3. PattyC says:

    I love real trees but am bad about remembering to water them so I have an artificial tree. Your article says they only last 6 years but mine has lasted me for over 30 years and I am still happy with it!!

  4. Jenn A says:

    Bought my pre-strung artificial tree on Black Friday special some 15 years ago, well before I had a family. It’s survived 2 cats and a now-toddler. We plan to use it for at least 1 more Christmas before we sell it to move cross-country.

  5. Cathy says:

    I have to share the same sentiment as Diana B. and Ann. We had our Christmas tree for well over ten years. Last year, after the holidays, when the sales were on, we bought a new tree at HD at a very reduced rate. We put it up at Thanksgiving and it stays up until a day or two after Christmas. As lovely and nostalgic as fresh cut trees are, we made the move to artificial when living in Dallas, Texas, 35 years ago. Our first Christmas there, I swear to you, the trees available (came from up north, of course), and cost anywhere from $75.00 to 200.00. There is no way on God’s green earth that I would pay that today, let alone 30 years ago! Back in the day, I remember, as a child, being told to clean up after the tree. Pine needles stuck me, the vacuum cleaner choked up, and I had sap all over me. Have been more than happy to make storage for my artificial tree in the attic to avoid the hassle. The lights are already on it and we just decorate with ornaments and tinsel and are good to go. We hang the wreaths that we’ve had for decades out front and they still look pretty nice after all of these years. I don’t mean to be a Scrooge but it works for us.

  6. MimiB says:

    I love the fresh scent of a live tree but always hated the messy task of watering it so about 25 years ago I created a simple funnel and tube gadget that makes watering the tree much easier. I used clear flexible tubing about the size of your pinky finger and taped a funnel into one end of it with duct tape. I weave the tubing into the branches so it isn’t noticeable and into the tree stand and secure it in place with a few pieces of twine. Now I can water my tree without having to crawl around under the tree, spill water on the gifts and make a huge mess.

  7. DianaB says:

    Yes, live trees are wonderful. Yes, they are glorious in the movies as folks go about harvesting their own out in the wild. Yes to the joy of picking out that special tree on the lot where they have been sitting for a month drying out. Yes, people make a living out of growing Christmas trees. Yes, the prices are outrageous at several dollars a foot. Yes, they are a pain in the butt when all the needles fall into the carpet as you haul their dead bodies out the door and then decide what you will do with it. That being said, I opt for fake, take it out of the box, put it up and when I am through, put it back in the box, put the box back in the shed, and I have saved hundreds of dollars over the years and a whole lot of mess. I am not a scrooge, just practical.

  8. Ann says:

    We’ve had the same artificial tree for the 25 years of our marriage, and it still looks good. It wasn’t very expensive when we bought it. YMMV


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