Christmas trees and averting disasters

Tony Nye - OSU Extension

OK, I am getting into the holiday spirit. Thanksgiving is over, I’ve done my Black Friday thing, my cyber Monday thing, the Buckeyes beat that state up north again, and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was on television this week — so bring it on!

Seriously though, the holiday season is here whether we like it or not, and there are always a few things to think about before holiday disaster strikes.

The first I can think of is the proper care of your cut Christmas tree. Now that some of you put it up, decorated it and hung the lights did you think about tree care? Did you prepare the tree for display properly?

Here are some key points to think about from the Penn State University Extension:

When selecting that special tree, know the freshest you can have is one you cut yourself from a local Christmas tree farm. This may be a cherished family tradition for some, but the convenience of purchasing a pre-cut tree is more attractive for others.

To check a pre-cut tree for freshness, look for flexible needles that remain firmly attached when you tug on them.

All needled evergreens shed their oldest needles every year, so do not be concerned when brown needles fall from the interior of the tree when you knock the base of the tree on the ground. Just make sure they are thoroughly shaken off the tree before taking it indoors.

If the needles pull out easily, or if they appear a dull, lifeless green, that tree may be past its prime.

Tree care is started with maintaining a high moisture level — the single most important factor in reducing needle loss and keeping the tree fresh.

This is accomplished primarily through the use of water-holding stands and keeping the water level in the stand above the base of the tree.

These research-based guidelines will help you to maintain the freshness and aroma of your live Christmas tree this holiday season:

1. Use a tree stand with an adequate water-holding capacity. A tree stand should have a water basin that provides 1 quart of water per inch of stem diameter. For most Christmas trees, the stand should hold at least 1 gallon of water. A cut tree will absorb a surprising amount of water, particularly during the first week, so replenish the water daily.

2. The tree stand should fit your tree. Some stands have circular rings at the top, so the ring must be large enough for the trunk of your tree to go through the hole. Avoid whittling down the sides of the trunk to fit a stand. The outer layers of wood are the most efficient in taking up water and should not be removed.

3. If the tree is to be stored for more than a couple of days before display, it is advisable to place its trunk in water and store it in a cool, shaded, and protected, area such as an unheated garage.

4. If the tree has been cut within the past 12 hours, you will not need to recut the trunk prior to display indoors. If it has been longer than 12 hours since harvest, the trunk should be recut to improve water uptake.

5. Cutting off a disk of wood about ¼” thick from the base of the trunk is all that is necessary before putting the tree in the stand. Make the cut perpendicular to the stem axis. Don’t cut the trunk at an angle, or into a V-shape. This only reduces the amount of water uptake for the tree.

6. Keep displayed trees away from sources of heat (fireplaces, heaters, heat vents, and direct sunlight). Lowering the room temperature will slow the drying process, resulting in less water consumption each day.

7. Check the stand daily to make sure that the level of water does not go below the base of the tree. With many stands, there can still be water in the stand even though the base of the tree is no longer submerged in water.

8. The use of “IV” type devices to supply water directly to holes drilled into the sides of the tree trunk is not as effective as displaying the tree in a more traditional, water-holding tree stand.

9. Applying anti-tran spirants to the tree does not have a significant effect on the rate of moisture loss.

10. Adding water-holding gels to the stand is not beneficial, and they can reduce the amount of water in the stand that is available to the tree.

11. Do not use additives, such as floral preservatives, commercial tree preservatives, molasses, sugar, bleach, soft drinks, aspirin, honey, and other concoctions, in the water. Clean water is all that is needed to maintain freshness.

12. Displaying trees in water with the proper care is much more effective in reducing fire hazards than spraying trees with flame retardants. Some flame retardants can damage needles and actually increase the rate of moisture loss from trees.

13. Monitor your tree for dryness. Run your fingers across the needles to determine whether they are dry and brittle. If the needles break easily or fall off in your hand, the tree is dry and should be removed

Finally — newer LED lights generate less heat than older types of lighting. Always turn the lights off when the tree is unattended.

Tony Nye is the state coordinator for the Ohio State University Extension Small Farm Program and has been an OSU Extension Educator for agriculture and natural resources for over 30 years, currently serving Clinton County and the Miami Valley EERA.

Tony Nye

OSU Extension