Here’s how to keep your Christmas tree fresh. Remember, watering is critical! A freshly cut tree can consume a gallon of water in 24 hours! See our expert tips—plus 10 ideas on how to recycle that tree after the holidays.
Buying the Christmas Tree
- If possible, buy a freshly cut tree from a reputable nursery or cut your own (with the land owner’s permission). Many of the trees for sale were cut weeks before.
- Freshly cut Christmas trees are farmed specifically for their purpose and support local agriculture.
- If you’re buying a tree that can be replanted later, keep in mind that a very small percentage of these trees survive after being indoors in the winter. To give them the best chance of survival:
- Leave in house a MINIMUM of five days.
- Give them 2 to 3 days to adjust by letting them sit (in water) in a garage or “in-between” transitional spot before and after they are in the home.
- The top-selling Christmas trees, as reported by growers across the United States, are the Scotch pine, Douglas fir, white pine, and balsam fir, in that order.
- If there are lots of needles on the ground around the trees, go elsewhere.
- To check a tree’s freshness, pull your hand toward you along the branch. Needles should not fall off.
- If you want to keep your Christmas tree potted and in the house after Christmas, a Norfolk Island pine would be the best choice—they are commonly kept as houseplants. Check with a local florist or nursery in your area.
Caring for Your Christmas Tree
- When you bring your tree home, saw a couple inches off the bottom of the trunk before setting in water. When trees are cut, pitch oozes out and seals the pores. By sawing off the base, you will open up the pores, and the tree will be able to absorb water.
- Watering is critical. A freshly-cut tree can consume a gallon of water in 24 hours!
- Fill the tree stand with water and keep it filled.
- Never let the water level go below the tree’s base.
- Indoors, keep the tree away from heating ducts or other heat sources. In fact, the lower the temperature, the better the tree will do.
- One old Vermonter we knew always packed his tree stand with well-watered soil and planted the tree in the mixture. The soil should be kept wet.
- Some people add aspirin, Sprite, or sugar to the water; we can’t say whether these actually help. Again, water is the vital element.
- See more advice for keeping your Christmas tree fresh.
10 Ways to Recyle a Real Christmas Tree
Live biodegradble Christmas trees can be turned into mulch. Most cities have recycling events or even curbside pickup during the weeks after Christmas. All you do is donate the tree and they’ll shred it down to natural mulch to take home and use in your garden. Check with your city government about tree pickup or dropoff.
Besides curbside pick up, there are many DIY ways to recyle a tree.
- Use the branches and pine needles as mulch in the garden to provide your garden with insulation and moisture throughout the winter (you can even add on top of snow). Break off the needles, cut the branches into small, 1 or 2-inch pieces, and use as mulch.
- Or, you can entire limbs to cover your garden beds, which reduces frost heaves by insulating sensitive plants, such as roses. Use boughs from your tree to shade broad-leaved evergreen shrubs, insulate perennials, or protect against frost and snow.
- Your tree can also make an excellent base for your compost pile. For the best results, don’t include the needles, which can slow down the disintegration process. Instead, use the needles for mulch. Then, cut the branches into small pieces so that they turn into compost faster.
- Saw the trunk into several pieces, after trimming off the branches. This will make an aromatic Yule fire in your fireplace next Christmas Eve. Bundle up the branches as firewood, too. Note: The wood must have time to dry. Do not throw the live branches into your indoor fireplace as it will cause sparks and is a fire hazard.
- Prop up your old tree near your bird feeder as a staging area for small birds, such as chickadees and finches.
- Or, create a living bird feeder. String your tree with fresh orange slices, popcorn, cranberries, homemade suet, and other bird-friendly goodies, and put it in a sheltered location. Eventually (within a year) the branches will become brittle and you can break the tree apart by hand or chip it in a chipper.
- Who doesn’t love the scent of pine trees? Pluck out the pine needles and either add to a bowl of potpourri for a natural air freshener or use as stuffing for small fragrance pillows. Sew scraps of fabric together and fill them with the needles to make fragrant balsam sachets to freshen drawers and closets.
- Another use for your pine needles is to make them into tea. It’s as easy as steeping pine needles in boiling water, and then straining it into cups to drink.
- If you’re creative, use the trunk and branches to make cool wood coasters, candleholders or other crafty items.
- Some Fish and Game Department use recycled Christmas Trees to make fish-friendly habitats. Some lake bottoms are void of the natural structures that fish like to hide in. You can also sink old trees in their pond, where they make cozy areas for fish and tadpoles to live, sleep, lay eggs, and find food.
Another reader says, “In Louisiana, we use old trees to bait fishing holes with. Just anchor them in a good location and the fish will use it for cover, especially bream and white perch. Go back in the spring and usually the fish will be in it or near it.”
Replanting a Live Tree
Sometimes we’re asked about replanting a live tree. First, you can only replant trees that came with a living root ball (that hasn’t been cut or damaged). Second, the tree can’t be dried out; most Christmas trees will only last a week (at the most) indoors in heated home. But if you kept the tree in a cool area or near a window, it could be worth a try.
With those caveats in mind, you’ll want to plant immediately after Christmas. If you’re in a cold climate and the ground isn’t prime for planting, mulch the tree and set it aside in a cold, sheltered area until the temperature warms up. In the meantime, water the tree every few weeks.
Where did the tradition of Christmas trees come from? Read about the origins of popular Christmas traditions here!