How To Prepare Your Home For a Real Christmas Tree

Early selection, a suitable stand, a fresh cut and the right location are key to keeping your real Christmas tree looking its best.

Renewable, recyclable real Christmas trees are much better for the environment than plastic and steel artificial trees that end up in landfills. And as Tom O’Connor, executive director of the National Christmas Tree Association, says, nothing beats the annual family tradition of visiting a tree farm to make your selection.

The following expert-approved tips will help you select, set up and care for your Christmas tree so it stays fresh throughout the holidays.

Real Christmas Tree Prep Tips

O’Connor says the right location for your Christmas tree is crucial. “Keep your tree away from heat vents or a fireplace, which can dry out the tree excessively,” he says. Lucas Dull, co-owner of Dull’s Tree Farm, recommends avoiding a spot in front of a south-facing window for the same reason.

Some other planning pointers include:

  • Measure the space: Check the width and height to avoid broken branches. “Don’t forget to account for your Christmas tree topper (star, angel, etc.),” Dull says.

  • Purchase a stand: Get your tree in water as soon as you bring it home. “We recommend a minimum of one gallon to 1.5 gallons of capacity,” Dull says. But the larger the tree, the more it will drink. If you don’t want to buy one, then you can build your own Christmas tree stand.

  • Do some species research: If you’ve got a lot of heavy decorations, pick a strong species, like a white spruce or noble fir, instead of a weaker white pine. For the real Christmas tree aroma, a popular Douglas or Fraser fir is ideal.

  • Pick a healthy tree: Avoid specimens with lots of dropping brown needles or brittle branches. “The tree should be green and pliable rather than dry,” O’Connor says.

  • Purchase a tree removal bag: “They really help keep the needles contained when it comes time to remove the tree,” Dull says. “Even if you don’t have a tree removal bag, an old sheet or tarp can be wrapped around the tree to help reduce the mess.”

When Do Tree Farms and Tree Lots Open?

“Most tree farms and lots open sometime around Thanksgiving,” Dull says. Don’t buy a tree before then. If you do, it won’t be as fresh when the holidays arrive, and you might have to take it down¬†earlier than you would like.

But shopping too late comes with risks. “Most trees are sold in those first two weekends after Thanksgiving,” O’Connor says. “The longer you wait, the more picked over the inventory becomes.”

The closer it gets to Christmas, the greater the chances of local farms and lots selling out. You might have to travel further afield, pay a premium, or make do with a scrubby-looking specimen.

How to Transport a Real Christmas Tree

“While pickup trucks are the most user-friendly vehicles for collecting your tree, any vehicle with a roof will do,” Dull says. These transport tips will minimize busted branches, dropped needles and sore backs:

  • Ask about netting: Most farms where you can cut your own Christmas tree will net it afterward to make it easier to handle and transport.

  • Tying tactics: “If tying your tree to the top of your vehicle, put the bottom of the trunk facing the front of your vehicle,” Dull says. This reduces wind damage while driving.

  • Bring a blanket or tarp: If you can fit the tree in your car, this prevents needles from getting everywhere.

How To Prep a Real Tree Before Bringing It Inside

“Often, the place you buy your tree has a tree shaker, where you put it on the device, and it shakes it to get loose needles off,” O’Connor says. If not, simply shake the tree yourself before heading indoors; wear gloves so any sap gets on them and not your skin. While bothersome bugs are rare on Christmas trees, this also helps remove clinging critters.

It’s OK if your tree has been sitting in a frozen lot, but Dull says it’s helpful to let a snow or ice-covered tree thaw in the garage. “Any ice or snow chunks that melt off the tree make a puddle in the garage instead of the house,” he says.

Ensuring your tree can absorb water effectively is vital. “If it has been more than a couple of hours since your tree received a fresh cut on the base, go ahead and give it another,” Dull says. This opens up the trunk veins, which can quickly callus over. “One-half inch off the bottom is sufficient,” he says.

Cut it with a handsaw¬†and be sure to remove any sap from the blade right away. “We use ammonia water to remove sap from tools, such as saws or clippers,” Dull says. “For hands, use hand sanitizer or some other alcohol-based hand cleaner.”

Keep your tree hydrated if you aren’t bringing it in immediately. O’Connor recommends putting it in a bucket of water in your garage in the interim. “You can also just store it without water, as long as it is given a fresh cut again before it is put into water,” Dull says.

How To Set Up Your Real Tree

Girl on father's shoulders putting star on top of Christmas tree10'000 Hours/Getty Images

O’Connor says to treat your tree like a vase of fresh-cut flowers. “If you let the vase run dry, the flowers are going to dry out very quickly, and a tree is going to be the same,” he says.

Never let the water level in the Christmas tree stand drop below the bottom of the trunk. If the base seals over and needs a new cut, do it before you’ve decorated your Christmas tree.

How much and when your Christmas tree needs watering depends on its size, species and the environment. However, Dull recommends filling your stand all the way up to start, then checking your tree twice a day, morning and evening, for the first few days or week. After that, a daily water check should be fine because the tree won’t be as thirsty.

If you’re concerned you might spill water while filling the stand, put a waterproof cover under it to deal with any wayward drips. “There are watering sticks that can help with making filling the tree stand easier and reduce the risk of spilling or overfilling,” Dull says.

Dull suggests waiting a day or two before decorating your tree. “This allows the branches to open up and fall into place, which helps make decorating easier,” he says.

How Long Do Real Trees Last?

“A well-cared-for fresh tree should last five to six weeks without a problem,” Dull says. Your watering schedule, the type of tree and the warmth of your home all affect how long a Christmas tree lasts.

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