The question of how to keep a Christmas tree alive for longer is arguably one of the most important conundrums of the festive period – especially since seasonal decorating gets earlier every year.
Of course, if you’ve opted for one of the best artificial Christmas trees keeping it fresh isn’t really a concern. However, if you’ve got your heart set on one of the best real Christmas trees, be it a Nordmann fir or a Norway spruce, ensuring your tree is in a healthy condition can require a little more effort.
But fear not, we’ve gathered together some of the best tips and tricks from horticultural experts to extend how long your Christmas tree will last – ensuring it’s in tip-top condition for the whole of the festive period.
How to keep a Christmas tree alive
The work required to keep your Christmas tree alive begins from the very moment you purchase it. In short, whether buying a Christmas tree online or visiting a tree farm, be sure to choose the best tree and look after it correctly, and you can be confident it will go the distance.
“You can expect a well-looked-after Nordmann fir (the UK’s most popular tree), to last a good four weeks,” says Mark Rofe from ChristmasTrees (opens in new tab). “Other trees, such as a Norway spruce, don’t last as long and are better suited to those who like to put up their Christmas tree late.” “Think of your tree as a cut flower,” adds Mark. “Eventually, it will wilt, and while you can’t reverse the changes, you can prolong its life.”
Read on for our round-up of must-try expert tricks…
1. Trim the tree trunk
Once you’ve brought your Christmas tree home, there’s an easy trick you can enlist to ensure it stays as hydrated as possible.
“Your tree is able to carry on taking up water for a while after being chopped down,” explains Will Kidger of SendMeAChristmasTree (opens in new tab). “If you can make it easy for the tree to do this, that will be a huge factor in prolonging its freshness.”
Cut the trunk before you put the tree up, trimming a small amount (around 3cm) from the base will ensure the tree can actually ‘drink’ the water in the stand. “This is the step a lot of people skip but it will make all the difference,” notes Will.
2. Choose the right stand
Ensure you have a Christmas tree stand that holds a good amount of water. “You’ll need enough to keep the bottom of the trunk submerged by about two inches,” Will recommends.
If you can, buy a Christmas tree stand with a built-in water reservoir, Mark advises. “Ensure the reservoir is topped up with fresh water daily,” he adds. “It’s definitely better to over-water than under-water your tree.” And don’t worry if the stand doesn’t quite fit with your chosen Christmas tree color trend, that’s what Christmas tree skirts are for.
3. Find the perfect spot to position
Picking the perfect place to position your Christmas tree is as vital for its well-being as it is for your festive aesthetic – because choosing a good location in your house can help to keep your Christmas tree alive for longer.
“Christmas trees really don’t like the heat,” says Mark. “If you want your tree to last as long as possible, it’s best to keep it in your coolest room – for example, a conservatory, if you have one. Make sure your tree is kept away from direct heat, such as radiators and underfloor heating.”
Alongside temperature, other factors to consider include:
- Pets: do you need to account for pounce-prone cats or dogs?
- Children: small children might feel compelled to grab your tree’s twinkling branches.
- The temperature: you should keep your tree away from sources of extreme heat.
4. Keep your Christmas tree outside
Being freshly cut, your Christmas tree will of course be more familiar with cooler outdoor conditions. So, if you have the space, consider keeping it outside for as long as possible so as to replicate the environment it’s used to.
“Minimizing the amount of time your Christmas tree spends indoors can help to prolong its life,” explains Mark. “So keep it decorated outdoors, and only bring it inside when it is closer to Christmas.”
As well as helping to keep your tree healthy, this is also one of the best Christmas decorating ideas, with the benefit of adding some extra festive sparkle to the exterior of your home. What’s not to love?
5. Keep the tree hydrated
As with freshly cut flowers, the key to keeping them alive for longer is plenty of water.
“Check the stand daily for water levels,’ suggests gardening expert, Samantha Jones from MyJobQuote (opens in new tab). “A well-watered tree will last longer. Despite popular belief, the temperature of the water or drilling holes at the bottom of your tree doesn’t help with water retention so you can skip these steps!”
Watering the tree often also helps to enhance the fresh scent. The scent of a real Christmas tree is one of the most evocative aromas out there (there’s a reason Yankee Candle has a product range of best-scented candles inspired by it!), so keeping that fragrance fresh is key to adding to the ‘healthy’ vibe you want your Christmas tree to give off throughout the holidays.
“It’s water that’s key here,” says Will. “Water uptake allows the tree to ‘breathe’ and your tree is much more likely to circulate that beautiful Christmas-y scent around the room if it’s drinking plenty of water.”
And in case you were wondering…
- The Nordmann fir doesn’t actually have a distinctive scent (despite its popularity!)
- The Norway spruce has a classic pine scent.
- The Fraser fir has a sweet citrus aroma.
6. Prevent fungal growth by adding baking soda
Is there anything this humble store cupboard ingredient can’t do? We’re aware that baking soda is recommended for all manner of kitchen cleaning hacks, cleaning a shower even removing stains when cleaning a mattress, but until now, we had no idea it was useful for prolonging the freshness of a Christmas tree too.
“Half a teaspoon of baking soda mixed in with a tree stand full of water can help to prevent fungal growth on your cut Christmas tree,” advises Evie Lane, a gardening expert at Primrose (opens in new tab). Preventing bacteria in the water helps to preserve the life of any freshly cut foliage, especially a Christmas tree that needs a lot of fresh water.
7. Give it a drink of lemonade
Serving fizzy refreshments isn’t just key when hosting a Christmas party, it’s also a great way to keep a Christmas tree alive for longer.
“To last throughout the festive season, Christmas trees need sugar for food and plenty of hydration,” explains Evie. “A citrus fizzy drink like lemonade is loaded with citric acid and enough sugar to keep the tree fresh. When your tree is starting to droop, adding 1 part lemonade to 3 parts water will perk up your tree and give it back the life it needs.”
Evie adds, “the best time to add a lemonade mix to your tree stand is in the last stretch before New Year when your tree has started to droop, doing so before then could clog the pores in the tree and cause a growth in bacteria.”
8. Add nutrients by reusing cooking water
In addition to being a conscious sustainable living choice reusing your water after cooking your meals could be the key to keeping your real Christmas tree alive for longer because that water is enriched with nutrients the roots need.
“Plants love starch because the nutrients are great for fostering plant growth,” Evie explains. “An eco-friendly way of feeding your Christmas tree this season is letting the pasta water cool, then adding it to your tree stand. You can also pour it into the soil if you’ve opted for a potted tree this year. You can also use the leftover cooking water from boiling vegetables and eggs.”
9. Keep on top of withered branches
Even if your Christmas tree is adorned with the best Christmas decorations, dried-up branches or brown needles will instantly detract from that festive magic. If you can spot either, it might be time to give your tree a trim.
“When you deadhead a living plant, it channels energy to the flowers or leaves that are lush and happy,” explains Will. “It doesn’t quite have the same impact with a cut Christmas tree but brown bits still don’t look very nice – so trim away!”
10. Look out for dropped needles
A floor covered in needles could be a sign that all is not well with your Christmas tree. Another tell-tale indicator is dryness along the branches.
“If you notice either of these, you should check your tree is hydrated and away from heat sources,” says Mark.
- Add ice cubes to the tree’s water to help keep it cool.
- Adding plant food to the water, for added nutrients.
- Alternatively, add lemonade to the water for an easy-grab boost.
When should you buy your Christmas tree?
People are putting up their Christmas trees earlier and earlier but while your instincts might compel you to put your Christmas tree up the moment Bonfire Night is out the way, it can pay to be patient.
“When we started delivering real Christmas trees around 10 years ago, the most popular delivery date was 14 December,” says Will. “Last year, it was 4 December, and a few early birds this year will be putting their trees up as early as the start of November.”
“If you’re buying a low-drop tree, like the Nordman fir, we’d recommend getting it no earlier than the end of November – around four weeks before Christmas,” Will advises.
“The Norway spruce dries out quickly and sheds needles, so it’s advisable to wait until mid-December for that variety. Even a tree that holds its needles well will eventually dry out though, so the longer you can bear to wait, the better your tree is going to look on 25 December. Around a week into December is a good bet if you want your tree to look fresh for Christmas.”
Of course, the earlier your Christmas tree goes up, the greater the amount of work required to keep it looking festive and fresh.
What to look for when choosing a real Christmas tree
There are a few key things to look out for when choosing a real Christmas tree. Mark advises that considering the weight of your Christmas tree is of great importance. “Steer clear of a tree that feels significantly light as this could be a sign that it has gone into shock,” he warns. “A good-quality, healthy Christmas tree will always be heavier.”
“Also, look at the needles: make sure they have a good shine. They shouldn’t fall easily. Try picking up the tree and dropping it gently onto its stump. A few needle drops are to be expected but if lots drop, it’s a sign the tree isn’t fresh or is dehydrated.”