Christmas Tree FAQ

Christmas tree next to fireplace

Whether you cut down your own tree at a Christmas tree farm or visit one of the many tree lots popping up during the holidays, selecting and bringing home a Christmas tree is one of the highlights of the season. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about how to select and care for a cut Christmas tree.

Christmas Tree Selection

What kind of tree should I get?

Douglas Fir

The type of tree you choose is really a matter of personal preference. Some prefer the stiffer branches of firs for hanging heavier ornaments, others like the soft openness of pines or the interesting colors of spruce. Christmas trees vary widely in shape, texture, and cost, although the decision is too personal to call one of them superior to another.

Different tree species have different characteristics, and the method of growing and pruning will also affect the overall appearance. Be sure to ask the grower about the care and harvest of their particular trees, to make sure you’re getting a healthy tree that will last all season.

How do I select a healthy tree?

Check for strong needles.

Look for a tree whose branches are upright and perky. The color should be green and glossy, with few to no brown needles. Grasp a branch and bend it a little, then gently pull it through your hand – look for flexible branches that don’t leave your hand full of needles. Gently shake the tree by its trunk and see what falls. A few brown needles will fall out naturally, but you shouldn’t see many green needles on the ground.

How big should my tree be?

Branches should be flexible.

That depends on the space and ceiling height available as well as your personal preference. When you’re out in the open field or at the tree lot, the trees will seem small – many a family has chosen the perfect tree and taken it home, only to discover that it won’t fit in the house! Before choosing your tree, be sure to measure the spot in your room carefully to determine how tall and wide it can be, then measure your tree before buying it. Don’t plan on trimming or shearing a tree – instead buy one the right size and shape.

How long will my tree last?

A freshly cut tree, kept well supplied with water, will last about a month. If you’re buying a precut tree, be sure to ask when it was harvested. All Christmas trees will begin to lose needles as they dry out. Fir, spruce, and cypress generally keep their needles longer than pines.

You may need to remove a few branches to help your tree sit in the stand.

Tree Stand Installation

What do I do with my tree when I get home?

Your main priority should be getting your tree in water. Even if you can’t decorate it right away, at the very least you should:

  • If you’re buying a precut tree, remove 1/2″- 1” off the trunk. The staff at the tree lot will often do this for you, but if you’re a long way from home you might as well wait.
  • Put the freshly cut trunk in water within 2 hours to keep it from sealing over.
  • Prune only enough branches for the trunk to fit in your tree stand – usually about 6” is enough.
  • Give your tree a good shake to dislodge any dried-out needles before bringing it inside. Your vacuum cleaner will thank you later!
  • Put the tree in the stand, set it in place (or on a sheltered porch), and fill the reservoir with water.

What kind of Christmas tree stand is best?

There’s not really a “best” tree stand – just make sure the reservoir holds at least a gallon of water, and that the trunk of your tree will fit in the stand easily (never shave the trunk to make it fit!). Some stands have screws that hold the tree in place while others have a spike that requires drilling a hole in the bottom of the tree. I prefer an adjustable screw tree stand with a wide plastic base that won’t scratch my floors and isn’t likely to turn over.

Christmas Tree Care

How much water does my tree need?

In the beginning, your tree can drink a gallon or more of water per day. Check the reservoir several times over the first few days, then at least once a day after that. Never let the reservoir dry out, or your tree will seal over and need another fresh cut. Water uptake will fluctuate once your tree is hydrated, so continue to monitor it.

What about aspirin and other water additives?

Additives to tree water aren’t necessary. What your tree needs most is a constant supply of fresh tap water.

Remember to water, water, water!

What should I do to keep my tree from drying out?

Sprays and other treatments aren’t necessary if you give your tree enough water. Cool temperatures and humidity help as well, so you may want to close any heat vents near your tree and place a small humidifier nearby.

Where should I put my tree?

Put it where you can get the most enjoyment out of it! However, to make your tree last longer (and for safety), keep it away from heat vents, fireplaces, and drafts.

Decorating and Safety Tips

What’s the best way to decorate a tree?

Start with lights, so you can entwine and hide the wires within the branches. Then follow with garland, and finally individual ornaments. Use larger ornaments to fill in open spaces between branches, and give your tree added dimension by hanging some at different depths, not just around the edges. Be creative and have fun!

What should I do to keep my tree safe?

To reduce the risk of fire, keep your tree hydrated and follow these holiday safety tips. If you have young children or pets, don’t leave your tree unattended, and consider securing it to the wall with clear twine or heavy fishing line to keep it from toppling over.

Can I use trimmed branches for decoration?

Absolutely! Cut branches will last a week or two as they are, or you can prolong their beauty by arranging them in water or in wet florist’s foam (such as Oasis).

Tree Disposal

What should I do with my tree after the holidays?

Don’t put your tree in a landfill! Instead, recycle your Christmas tree in the garden so that it will enrich the earth long after the holidays are over.

Dwarf Alberta Spruce makes a good tabletop tree.

Further Information


Please Leave a Comment

5 Comments on “Christmas Tree FAQ”

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  • Sandy Says:
    December 15th, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    We have a freshly cut live tree that was put immediately from returning home into a bucket of water 10 days ago…it has basically drunk no water. Instead of doing a fresh cut again, can we drill holes in the bottom to allow this tree to drink water? Need help ASAP…plan to bring it inside today or tomorrow.

  • paige Says:
    December 15th, 2015 at 11:42 am

    My tree is turning brown. It was fresh cut, and I put it in the water right away, and it has been full of water. I heard putting sugar helps, but I don’t know what to do.

  • kim brown Says:
    December 10th, 2014 at 3:39 am

    have got my tree in a stand but keeps falling over when decorated ,what am i doing wrong .

  • james gage jr. Says:
    January 25th, 2013 at 10:58 am

    i have designed a tree stand that has a built in resovoir that holds 7 us gallons. no external componets, water tanks, hoses, valve assemblies. just physics. not only does it hold an incredable amount of water, the weight of the water makes it virtually tip proof.

  • janetaylor Says:
    January 11th, 2010 at 7:12 am

    The Christmas tree symbolizes peace and love and is a decorated evergreen coniferous tree. It is a tradition associated with the celebration of Christmas or the original name Yule. According to Christian lore, the Christmas tree is associated with St Boniface and the German town of Geismar.

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Christmas Tree FAQ