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How to Care for Christmas Trees

A Christmas tree shedding all of its needles is the last thing most of us want to deal with during the busy holiday season, which is why the first question I usually get asked when selling them is how fresh are they or are these local trees? While all of our live trees at Amsterdam Garden Centre are sourced locally, cut trees generally come from Washington, Oregon, or are shipped from back east by rail, as most of our regional growers have retired due to the high cost of B.C. real estate. But that doesn’t diminish the cut tree’s ability to last indoors, as premature defoliation is usually the result of how they have been handled after purchase as opposed to where they were grown. So here are some tips on getting the best out of both your live and cut Christmas trees this year.

Cut Christmas Trees

Different Trees. Different Shelf Lives.

It shouldn’t be too surprising to learn that tree species vary in longevity. If you are one of those people who insist on having a Christmas tree up for the entire month of December, then you are probably best to choose either Noble (Abies procera) or Fraser Fir (Abies fraseri), as both of these species tend to last the longest. Grand Fir (Abies grandis) comes in a close second and is perhaps the most fragrant with its Christmas orange scent. Our native Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) can be expected to shed some needles but with its fast growth rate, it is usually quite affordable.

Shake Out Those Old Needles First

Pine needles

Before you get a fresh cut on the bottom of the stem it is very important to knock the tree on the ground a few times to remove any old tree needles. Most dense, sheared trees like Douglas and Noble fir still have a few brown needles in the crown that were shed last autumn. Once the tree has been opened and thawed, just bang the base on the ground several times to remove them.

Make A Fresh Cut

A store-bought Christmas tree will need a fresh cut at the bottom of the stem because it is essentially sealed off with sap. Ideally, you will need to cut ½ to 1” off in order for the tree to draw up water properly and it should be flat cut, not v-shaped. If you are not planning to put your tree in a stand for more than 2-3 hours after the cut, then perhaps wait until just before you put it up to cut it, or it may seal over again. Normally a fresh cut will last for the drive home without any problems.

Does Drilling Holes In the Tree Help?

Christmas tree with a drill

The simple answer is no because a cut tree draws its water through the sapwood just below the bark. If you want to drill a shallow central hole to guide it into the stand holder that should be okay, but don’t make it too deep as this will allow the stump base to rest flush against the bottom of the stand and may impede water absorption.

Choose an Appropriately Sized Cut Christmas Tree Stand

Big trees need larger stands, and a minimal water capacity should be between 3-4 litres. The one shown here barely accommodates the width of the trunk and doesn’t have the counterbalance required to keep the tree steady. Also, try to be home when you first put the tree in the stand as it uses a lot of water to fill up the stem initially and if it’s allowed to run dry, it may seal over again. After the stem is filled, watering is usually just once a day.

Sterilize Your Existing Tree Stand

Disinfecting christmas tree stand

When using the same tree stand from year to year, it is very important to sterilize it before you place the tree in it and add water. The reason is that existing bacteria can cloud the water and impede water absorption – so use Lysol or a bleach-based cleaner to thoroughly clean the stand reservoir.

Keep Your Christmas Tree Away From Heat Sources

Keep Your Christmas Tree Away From Heat Sources

When choosing a place to display your tree, try keeping it away from heat sources such as fireplaces, forced air ducts, space heaters, and electric radiators as these will quickly dry it out. Yes, a Christmas tree looks beautiful by a roaring fire but you will find your shelf-life also decreases substantially.

Do Christmas Tree Preservatives Really Work?

Christmas tree preservative

We have customers that swear by our tree preservative, which slows needle drop, extends tree life, and reduces fire danger. Because they are proprietary, it is hard to know what the active ingredients actually are and whether or not they are pet safe. So, if you have a cat or dog that frequents the tree stand, you may want to use just water.

Alternate Tree Preservatives

There are a lot of homemade tree preservatives being suggested out there, including corn syrup, lemon juice, white vinegar, bleach, sugar, aspirin, Sprite, copper pennies, and even a shot of Vodka. While the latter might make an interesting tree stand cocktail for imbibing pets, none of them actually work and their pet safety is also suspect.

Live Christmas Trees

The Golden Rule

Live, Potted Christmas Trees

The most important thing that you need to know when using a live Christmas tree (with roots), is that it can only spend a maximum of 10-14 days indoors. In a very warm house, that timeframe needs to be reduced to 7-10 days, while cooler rooms can accommodate a tree for the full two weeks. The reason for this is that the tree comes out of dormancy and cannot survive the shock of going outdoors again. It won’t appear to die at Christmas, but usually turns brown around March when it should be starting to break dormancy. It is also important to ease them into and out of the indoor space by keeping them in a sheltered garage or shed for a day before moving them.

Water With Ice Cubes

Water Tree With Ice Cubes

Water can often bead over the burlap sack or pour down the crack between the soil and the pot, making it difficult to get to the actual roots. A better approach is to simply use ice cubes that stay in place, slowly melt (allowing the water to penetrate into the soil) and keep the roots cool. The kids also love feeding the trees this way.

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