For Release November 27, 2005
Christmas Tree Care
by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent
The weekend and week following Thanksgiving always sees a lot of Christmas trees getting purchased and set up in the home. In our family, the mail order Fraser Fir from North Carolina is always schedule to arrive the week after Thanksgiving. We're in that part of the rotation where Thanksgiving is early so Christmas trees are going to be in the house a little longer than other years. Now if your Christmas tree is the kind that comes out of a box to be assembled, then you probably don't have to worry about keeping your tree fresh. But if your tree is like the Otte's, and was recently detached from a root system, then you need to exercise some special care to keep the tree from going to pieces and becoming a fire hazard.
It doesn't matter whether you cut a cedar from the pasture, buy a pine from a local cut your own Christmas tree farm, or pick up a spruce or fir from a tree lot in town, one thing is certain. The minute the tree is cut it starts to die. The green needles continue to carry on photosynthesis. This requires water and the needles will live until the water in the plant is all used up. If the tree isn't getting water into the base of it's trunk, needle death will occur
sooner rather than later. That is when the needles start falling off the tree and when the fire risk is highest.
Your entire goal is to create a situation where the tree is in a condition to take up water and has as much water as it can take up. Ideally, you cut the tree, take it home and get it into water in just a matter of hours. But realistically the tree was cut days, if not weeks before it arrives at your house. If picking a tree out of a lot, grasp it and stomp the cut end on the ground a couple of times. If lots of needles start falling off (think of Charlie Brown's Christmas tree) then continue looking until you find one that doesn't lose a lot of needles.
As soon as you get it home, try to get it in the stand and start giving it water. BUT immediately before you put it in the stand, I want you to cut off the bottom 3/8 to ½ inch of the trunk. The sap of evergreen trees tends to be very sticky. When the tree is cut, this sap tends to seal over the ends of the vessels that carry the water. This is a defense mechanism so that the tree won't lose moisture when it is injured. By cutting off that bottom end of the trunk, you cut off all that dried sap that is plugging the end of the water transport tubes. You've unplugged them, opening them back up so they can take up water. The sooner after re-cutting the end that you get it into the stand and into water, the less chance there is for that sap dry up and make a new plug.
While there have been recipes circulated and products sold to make your Christmas tree last longer, it is questionable how much good they actually do. But if you want a recipe, call the Extension Office and we can provide you with one. The important thing is water. Don't ever let the water level fall below the end of the tree or you can end up with a plugged trunk again. When you first put the tree up, it is probably going to take up a lot of water. If it doesn't, you may need to cut off more of the trunk. The first week, I would check the water about three times a day. Then as water uptake slows down, you may only need to add water once or twice a day. But be sure to check it regularly. Christmas trees certainly help make the season special. So take care of that tree so it doesn't become a risk to your house and home!
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