If you’re committing to a live tree this holiday season, I hope you’re ready to do a lot of watering. That big boy’s going to need a gallon or more per day, and no additives or spray-on stuff can change that. Keep your tree watered. Otherwise, it becomes a huge fire hazard.
Your tree stand should be able to hold a quart of water for every inch of trunk diameter, according to Rick Bates, an actual Christmas tree expert from Penn State’s Department of Horticulture. That’s a gallon for a tree with a 10cm trunk, more if it’s bigger.
But the tree is really the boss here: If it’s thirsty, it drinks. Make sure there is always enough water that the bottom of the trunk is submerged. You’ll probably have to refill the container at least once a day, but it’s safest to make like Santa and check it twice.
How to Prepare Your Tree for Life Indoors
First, if the tree has been sitting around a lot all day, ask the tree people to cut a disk off the end. A quarter inch should do it, but you can ask for an inch. If you know when the tree is cut and you can get it into water within 12 hours, an extra cut isn’t necessary.
Don’t try to get fancy. Maybe you cut roses at an angle before you put them into a vase, but a tree should be cut straight across. No angle, no V shapes, no drilling holes in weird places. That makes it harder for the tree to actually get its water.
It’s actually the outer layers of wood that suck up the water, not the center of the tree. Think of this layer as a bunch of straws. If any of the straws are above the surface of the water, the tree can’t drink through them. (The reason we cut off that disk earlier is to make sure the ends of the straws aren’t clogged up with sap.)
So make sure the entire end of the tree is in water, and definitely don’t whittle down the bark to fit the tree in a stand.
Water, Water, Water
If you bring the tree home a day or two before you plan to set it up, just stick the whole trunk in a bucket of water and keep it in a cool place. Your garage, if you have one, is perfect.
The tree will need a ton of water its first week, and less afterward. Check the stand multiple times a day to make sure it doesn’t dry out as it’s getting acclimated.
Here are a bunch of things that don’t work to keep your tree fresh: Putting a penny in the water. Putting aspirin in the water. Putting vodka in the water. Putting gel beads in the water. Spraying the tree with flame retardants. Spraying the tree with stuff that says it will reduce evaporation. Dosing the water with cut flower food or even tree preservatives. Adding honey, molasses, bleach, lemonade...you get the idea. Your tree wants water. Save the lemonade for yourself.
Watch for Signs of Dryness
A well-watered tree will stay fresh and healthy for three to four weeks, according to Bates, so if you haven’t bought your tree yet, check the calendar. You may be best off buying your tree in mid-December, then chucking it promptly after the holidays or when it gets dry — whichever comes first.
To check, run your fingers over the needles. A healthy tree won’t mind. The needles of a crispy, dry tree will come off in your hand.
If you screwed up, there’s no way to bring it back to life. Mulch that fire hazard. Then get yourself a new tree and water it better this time