During the hustle and bustle of the holidays, staying hydrated is key to maintaining your glow—especially if you’re a Christmas tree. But unfortunately, many of us have thirsty tannenbaums.
“Most people are surprised to learn that they’re not properly watering their trees,” says Tim O’Connor, executive director of the National Christmas Tree Association, a trade organization representing more than 700 farms.
Want to keep your evergreen looking, well, evergreen? Follow these expert caretaking tips.
Start with a Healthy Tree
First things first: make sure you bring home a happy, healthy tree.
“No matter what type of tree you select, you want the needles to be green and supple and the branches to be pliable,” advises O’Connor. “If it’s already dry, it’s not going to last long.”
Ask the nursery owner or lot attendant when the trees were delivered. While some sellers receive all of their trees at once, others will have shipments scheduled throughout the season. Ideally, you want a tree from the most recent delivery.
To test the tree, run a branch through your hand. If the needles fall off or if the branch seems brittle, move on—the tree is already too dry. Other signs of a dry or deteriorating tree include wrinkled bark, discolored needles, and a musty odor.
Make a Fresh Cut
To ensure that your tree can properly drink, you’ll want to make a fresh cut to the trunk.
Before placing your tree in water, use a saw to remove a half-inch thick disk of wood from the base of the trunk. Don’t cut the trunk into a V-shape or drill a hole into the base—despite what you may have heard, this will make it harder for your tree to absorb water, not easier.
After cutting your tree, place it in a bucket of water or a water-filled tree stand as soon as possible, advises O’Connor. Most species can go six to eight hours after a trunk cut and still take up water, but sooner is better.
Select the Right Stand
Not all Christmas tree stands are created equal.
To help keep your tree well hydrated, select a quality stand that is large enough to provide one quart of water per inch of stem diameter. Don’t whittle down a large tree to fit into a smaller stand—the outer layers of the wood are the best at absorbing water.
If you have a history of neglecting houseplants, consider also investing in a water monitor that will beep when it’s time to refill your stand.
How Often Should You Water
Before you make your morning coffee, make it a habit to serve your tree some fresh water.
“You should really be watering your tree daily,” says O’Connor. “Especially during the first seven to ten days, which is when they take up the most water.”
For a standard size tree with a trunk diameter in the five-inch range, you’ll want to maintain at least five quarts of water in your stand each day. That said, there’s no harm in refilling your stand to capacity—trees know their holiday drinking limits, so err on the side of extra.
Make sure that the trunk is submerged in the water—depending on how low the tree sits in the stand, it could be floating above the water level.
Don’t use additives in the water, advises O’Connor. While your florist may recommend plant food for cut flowers, trees only require clean water.
Monitor for Dryness
While the temperature of the water doesn’t matter, the temperature of the air does. Heat will cause your tree to dry out prematurely, so avoid placing it near a vent or radiator if possible. If you have to place it near a heat source, check the water levels more frequently.
Monitor your tree for dryness. If the needles begin to shed excessively or are dry and brittle to the touch, it’s time to remove the tree from your house, as it could become a fire hazard.
With proper watering, most trees will stay healthy for four to six weeks, says O’Connor.