How to Feed Christmas Trees

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Bringing in a fresh Christmas tree is a delightful part of the holiday season for many people. Whether the tree is live and potted or freshly cut, keeping it green is a vital matter of safety as well as aesthetics. Dried-out Christmas trees are serious fire hazards that put your home and your family's lives at risk. Water, and plenty of it, is the key to keeping a fresh Christmas tree safe and beautiful.

Water Your Tree Well

While there have been many folk remedies -- everything from aspirin to pennies to vodka and lemonade cocktails -- for watering cut Christmas trees, what the tree really needs is plain, fresh water. The rule of thumb is that a cut tree can drink 1 quart of water for every inch of stem diameter. A typical Christmas tree, sold with a 3- to 4-inch stem diameter, will consume up to a gallon of water per day, especially in the first few days after it arrives at your home.

Total Christmas Tree Care

Even though your home environment is very different from the forest in which the tree grew, you can take several steps to create an environment that helps your tree live and breathe easily. For both planted and cut trees, you should:

  • Locate the tree well away from potential heat and ignition sources, such as fireplaces, wood stoves, space or baseboard heaters and heating vents. If you want to put the tree in front of a large window that gets full sun, give the tree a cooling break by drawing the curtains when you're not using the room.
  • Use decorative lights that give off little-to-no heat: LED lights emit the least amount of heat. Among filament lights, mini-lights give off less heat than full-sized bulbs.
  • Never leave the tree unattended with the lights on. Children and pets should be supervised when they are in the room with the tree. 

Caring for a Cut Christmas Tree

The sooner your cut tree goes into water, the better. If you haven't cut the tree yourself, ask the seller how long ago the trees were harvested. A tree cut more than 12 hours previously should be cut again as soon as you get it home. Cut a slice at least 1/4-inch thick from the bottom of the tree, keeping the cut as level as possible. If you aren't setting up the tree immediately, place the cut stem in a bucket of water in a cool, protected location for no longer than two days.

When setting up your tree, use a stand that has a wide, flat, stable base capable of holding at least a gallon of water. The ring that holds the tree should accommodate the trunk; you should not have to shave off the outer sides of the trunk because it will inhibit the tree's ability to take up water. Make sure the tree is vertical and balanced when you've placed it in the stand and tightened the holding screws.

Fill the base with fresh water, and top up the water supply as needed. This may be twice a day for the first week, and once a day after that. When you decorate the tree, make sure you keep electric light cords away from the water. If you cover the base with a tree skirt, make sure you know the location of the opening so you can easily add the tree's daily water dose.

Caring for a Live Tree

If you opted to make a live tree your Christmas tree, then you will be able to plant it to keep the holiday memories alive. Live trees should not be kept in the house longer than 10 days. After that, they should be moved outside to a sheltered area, such as a porch, until it's time to plant them in the spring. Small living trees are usually potted and mulched; keeping the soil evenly moist is all the care that's needed. Large trees are typically sold with a root ball and can be displayed in a large bucket or Christmas tree stand filled with mulch. Moisten the root ball thoroughly before putting it in the stand. Check it daily, adding water as needed to keep the ball moist until you plant it.

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