More than 34 million Christmas trees are harvested and sold in the U.S. each and every year, which adds up to over a trillion dollars spent on trees alone! It’s only natural that one would want it to last the season. Whether you purchase a freshly-cut tree or are among the 16 percent who cut their trees down themselves, it's important to know how to choose and care for a living Christmas tree. Here's how:
At the Time of Purchase
Some of the most popular Christmas tree varieties are the Scotch pine, Douglas fir, white pine, and balsam fir. These trees are known for both their durability and beauty. When selecting one from a tree lot, you'll want to look on the ground to make sure the tree hasn’t shed a ton of needles. While some shedding is normal, excessive shedding means the tree has been on the lot for quite a while. If you want to cut your own tree but don’t have any on your own land, you'll have to be sure to get the appropriate permissions before you start chopping anything down.
When You Get Your Tree Home
Caring for your Christmas tree is very similar to caring for a bouquet of flowers — it's just on a much larger scale. Once you’ve carried your tree through the door of your house, cut off the bottom inch or two of the trunk. This will help it absorb water more efficiently.
Check the stand you plan to use to ensure it fits your tree. You don’t want to have to cram the trunk in or try to shave down its sides to make it fit better, because the outer layers of the tree play an important part in circulating water. Cutting into them can prevent the tree from absorbing all the water it needs to thrive.
Put your tree in water as soon as you get home. It'll be very thirsty for the first week or so, and especially during the first 24 hours. While most trees can wait a few hours before getting water, giving it to them as soon as possible will help them absorb water as efficiently as possible. Fill up the receptacle in the tree stand, and make sure it stays full during the holiday season. Ideally, you’ll want to provide one quart of water for every inch of the trunk's diameter. For instance, a tree with a four-inch-wide trunk would require one gallon of water (which most stands can hold). You may have to refill the receptacle daily, especially during the first week or two.
Regardless of how often you fill it, you'll want to be sure to check it daily to ensure the base of the tree is submerged. After all, the tree can’t absorb water if its trunk is hovering above the water line. Some people add crushed aspirin or sugar to the water. While this is supposed to keep the tree healthier longer, the jury is still out on whether it actually works or not. While you’re checking the water, you'll also want to keep an eye out for any fallen sap or pitch, which can be a pain to remove (especially if it’s been there for a while).
Choose a good location for the tree. Corners are ideal spots for them because there’s often an electrical outlet nearby and they protect the tree from being nudged or bumped into. You’ll also want to place the tree away from heat sources, which can not only dry it out but cause a fire in your home. This includes heaters, vents, fireplaces, wood stoves, and even direct sunlight. It’s also best to keep the temperature of the room the tree's going to be in relatively low.
When decorating your tree, you'll want to use low-heat lights to reduce its chances of drying out. Inspect your lights before placing them on the tree. If you spot any signs of wear, throw them away and purchase a new set or two. One of the most common causes of Christmas tree fires is malfunctioning lighting. For that reason, it’s also a good idea to unplug your lights before going to bed and leaving the house.
Don’t overload your electrical circuits. Sure, a tree adorned with a thousand twinkly lights, music-making drummer ornaments, and an electric train set would be the coolest tree ever — but it could also be a fire hazard if the plugs are piggy-backing one another into the socket.
Throughout the month, use a broom and dustpan to clean up any fallen needles. Even if you stay on top of watering your tree, it’ll still shed a few needles. You may need to do this every day, especially if you have small children or pets.
If You Have Any Curious Pets
While they're generally safe, Christmas trees can be mildly toxic to pets. The oils from the tree can create mouth and stomach irritation, and the needles can cause an obstruction in your pet's gastrointestinal tract. If your pets love to nibble on things, it may be wise to purchase a smaller tree that you can place on a table, away from their curious mouths.
The most common issue arises from pets drinking tree water. Not only does this dry out the tree, but it can also be dangerous for your pet. If you put aspirin the water to extend the life of the tree, your pet might ingest it. Plus, the tree may have already been exposed to a number of preservatives, pesticides, and fertilizers, any one of which can prove poisonous to your pets.
Monitor your pets when they're playing around your tree, and be sure to keep them away from it when you’re not home. Watch for changes in behavior, vomiting, etc. Regularly check the light cords for chewing damage. Damaged cords can start an electrical fire and give your furry friends some nasty electrical burns.