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.
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.
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.