Is It Too Early to Put Up Your Christmas Tree?

Everyone has an opinion about when you should put up your fresh evergreen, but there is a right (and wrong!) answer, say experts.

Two women putting ornaments on a christmas tree

Considering the fact that many tree farms begin hawking their holiday wares around Thanksgiving, it may seem like the average household should shop for their turkey and Christmas tree at the same time. But just because trees are available to purchase as early as mid-November doesn't mean that you should buy one before you finish up the leftover stuffing sandwiches.

According to Christmas tree professionals, there absolutely is a right time to buy and put up your evergreen—and that window revolves primarily around when you want to take it down.

Your Christmas Tree Will Last 4 to 6 Weeks

Before you decide when to buy and decorate your Christmas tree, you first have to consider a few factors: Think about the species of tree, how you will display it (in plain water is best), and—most importantly—when you plan to put it on the curb, says Gary A Chastagner, Ph.D., a professor of plant pathology at Washington State University.

According to Chastagner, the average evergreen lasts roughly four to six weeks from its harvest date (which is not always the same as its purchase date), with some exceptions. "During the past 20 years, there has been a significant increase in the production of 'true fir' Christmas trees, such as Noble and Fraser fir," he says. "These species have excellent post-harvest 'keepability' and can be displayed for extended periods of time."

Putting Up Your Tree in Early December Is Best

For all of you eager celebrators, that means you could get away with displaying your tree from November 21st to January 1st—but only if you choose a freshly harvested, long-lasting variety that (might) go the distance. The safest option? Most evergreens on the four-week timeline shouldn't be put up until early December if you hope to keep them through the month. Push that timing forward should you want to display your tannenbaum in the new year.

Buy Freshly-Cut Christmas Trees for Increased Longevity

Your Christmas tree farmer wants your tree to last just as much as you do, says Carrie McClain, a grower at Hart-T-Tree Farms. With that said, it can be challenging to determine exactly when your tree was cut down when you start shopping, especially if you're buying from a distributor instead of a local farm.

How to Check for Freshness

To better understand the tree's timeline, McClain suggests giving your pick a mini physical. "You can tell if a tree is fresh by running your hand down the branch or bending a branch back," she says. "If the needles fall off or the branch breaks, the tree is dry [and not fresh]."

Some primary needle dropping, however, is normal: While evergreen trees won't lose all their needles at once, they do shed their old, interior needles as they grow—and it's normal to see dead needles in the interior part of the tree, which receives less sunlight, says McClain. "Most of these dead needles are shaken off during normal harvesting and handling, but not all," she says.

How to Extend the Life of Your Christmas Tree

If you want to see your Christmas tree through its full four-to-six-week lifespan, make sure to place the freshly-cut base in a stand that can hold plenty of water, say our experts. "As a rule, a tree can use up to 1 quart of water per inch of stem diameter," Chastagner says. "A tree with a 4-inch diameter stem should be displayed in a stand that holds at least 1 gallon of water."

Check Water Level Daily

Because it can be tricky to figure out just how much water your tree stand holds once you've added the tree (even if your stand states its water capacity somewhere, it will likely fail to account for how much water you can actually add once the trunk is in), check your tree stand daily to make sure the water level doesn't drop below the base of the trunk, notes Chastagner.

Monitor Room Temperature and Humidity

"The temperature of the water used to fill a stand is not important," Chastagner says, noting that adding preservatives or other old-wives'-tale items (like an aspirin) also do little for freshness. It's the conditions of the room that matters: "The ambient temperature and the relative humidity of the space where the tree is displayed will also affect its rate of moisture loss and can impact the longevity of the tree," Chastagner says.

As for the conditions to strive for? Cooler temperatures and higher relative humidity will help extend your tree's life, Chastagner explains.

Signs You Need to Take Your Christmas Tree Down

Even if you follow the four-to-six-week rule of thumb and get your tree up at the perfect time, you still may need to say goodbye before you're ready, McClain says. "Even with proper handling and a tree variety known for good needle retention, some trees dry out quickly," she says. "If you know that the tree was well cared for and it's a variety that should last a long time after being cut—and you know that you kept the stand full of water—the dryness is likely due to an air bubble or some other internal obstruction that won't let the tree take up water."

If the needles are falling and the branches are sagging and breaking, it's time to take your tree to the curb. But don't let one bad experience ruin your opinion of fresh cut trees for good: "Each real tree experience is unique and full of adventure," says McClain. "Every year brings a new and different tree to decorate—and with it, a new story."

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