Deck the Halls with Boughs of Freshness
A few years ago, my sister purchased a tree from the grocery store. It was gorgeous, just what she wanted. She and her husband tied it to the top of their SUV and took it home singing jingle all the way.
That evening, they set it up, watered, and decorated. This was the first year in their new home and they were excited to have the halls decked for the holiday season. That evening they laid a fire on the hearth, sat back, sipped cocoa, and basked in the glow of Christmas. The next morning, however, a shadow fell when they woke up to a naked tree. Oh, the ornaments and lights were still there, but most of the needles had dropped to the floor. They spent that morning un-decorating the tree, loading it back on top their SUV, and returning it to the store. It’s a hassle to return a Christmas tree, but it could be dangerous to keep one that is dried out. According to the National Fire Prevention Association, fire departments in the U.S. responded to 210 home fires from 2010-2014 caused from Christmas trees. Don’t let that happen to you.
Here are tips for keeping your tree fresh throughout the holiday season.
1. Buy fresh
If purchasing a tree from a lot, choose one with fresh green needles that do not come off when you run your hand over the branch. Stand the tree up straight and shake. It’s okay for a few brown needles to fall, but not any green ones. Also, check to make sure the branches are still pliable—a sign they still have water in them.
2. Trim the trunk
If you cut your own tree from a farm, trim one inch from the trunk. If you purchased an already cut tree, trim two inches. “When a tree is cut the first time,” said Buffy Ostlund of Ostlund Christmas Tree Farm in Singers Glen, Virginia, “it sends sap to the wound to help it heal. I call this a sap scab.” So, even if you cut the tree yourself, that sap (which will run en route to your home) will need to be removed to allow the tree to soak up water in the tree stand.
3. Treat the needles
Ostlund’s secret to tree longevity is to spray the needles with diluted floor wax before bringing it in the house. “This helps seal the needles and slows down the dehydration process,” she said. To do this, dilute any clear acrylic floor wax with enough water to enable it to pass through a spray bottle. Any spray bottle will do.
4. Increase humidity
Winter is our driest season, especially when running a furnace or woodstove. Do what you can to increase the humidity in the room where your tree is located. Try running a humidifier. If you heat with wood, keep a pot of water simmering on top the stove.
5. Water frequently
Trees drink a lot of water and once they get dry, it is hard to turn them around. Check the tree stand for water at least once a day. “No need for anything special like an aspirin or a penny in the water, either,” said Ostlund. “Trees just like water.” And remember that sap scab you cut off? If you let the water level in your stand drop below the trunk, it will form a new scab that will keep it from absorbing any more. Better to keep the water level high than have to trim the trunk again.
6. Choose the right location
Position your tree at leas three feet away from a heat source. Warm air blowing from a register or heat from a fireplace, woodstove, or space heater will dry it out. Keep candles or wax warmers away from it, as well. Also, never block an exit with your tree. Should it start a fire, you will want all exits open.
Christmas is the season to be jolly, deck the halls with boughs of holly, and all that. Don’t let problems with your tree ruin the season, as it did my sister’s. Follow these tips and enjoy the green, the lights, and the aroma of a fresh tree all season long.
How to choose the perfect tree
Whether this is the first Christmas in your own home or you just long for the real smell of the season, you want to choose your tree with care. Here are a few tips to consider.
Measure twice, buy once: The size of your tree will matter from the time you put it on top your vehicle to take it home, maneuver it through the doorways, insert it into the stand, and place it in the perfect corner. Measure the diameter of the branches and the trunk, as well as height. And don’t forget that the stand and topper will add to the height.
Only buy fresh: If you cannot get to the farm to cut your own, you need to make sure your tree is fresh. Follow the guidelines in the story.
Get the right species: Trees have different qualities to consider. White pine has softer needles but flimsier branches that will not accommodate heavy ornamentation. A Scotch pine has stronger branches but the needles are more prickly. Spruce trees smell amazing and have a beautiful shape but some folks are allergic to their resin. Do a little research before buying.
Observe color and shape: Choose a tree with even coloring. Too many pale or brown needles signifies dryness. Also, the shape of the tree is important. If you have a small space, choose a tree that is tall and thin rather than short and squatty.