If you’re someone who likes to decorate for the holidays as soon as possible (no judgement here), you may end up with a dry, needle-less Christmas tree once December 25 finally rolls around. While real Christmas trees have a delightful smell and authentic appearance, the downside is that they do have a fairly short lifespan, especially if they’re not cared for properly. This means you have to be smart about when you buy them, and unfortunately for all you early birds, November 1 was probably too soon.
Here’s everything you need to know about how long real Christmas trees last, as well as how to properly care for your tree, with helpful tips from a third-generation tree farmer.
Around four to five weeks in ideal conditions, which is why the weekend after Thanksgiving is prime time to purchase a Christmas tree. However, there are a few factors that can increase (or decrease) a tree’s lifespan.
“There are a few main factors—such as the variety of tree, when it was cut down, and how you care for it—that determine how long a real Christmas tree can last,” explains Auraly Dobbs of Hidden Springs Tree Farm in Atascadero, California
As Dobbs mentions, the best trees are those that have been freshly cut. If a tree has been sitting in the lot or on a truck for a few weeks, it won’t last nearly as long as one that was cut just a few days before. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to ask when the trees were harvested and/or check its overall health. Fresh Christmas trees will have soft, flexible needles that are dark green, but if the needles are pale or fall off when you touch them, the tree isn’t as healthy—and likely won’t last as long in your home.
Another factor to be wary of is the type of tree you buy. Fir and cypress trees are known to last for four to five weeks, while pine and spruce trees lose their needles more quickly. As an added bonus, fir trees also give off the wonderful Christmas tree scent that so many of us associate with the holidays!
Like any live plant, Christmas trees will look their best and last longer if they’re cared for properly, and Dobbs explains that this starts as soon as you bring it home.
Wrap Your Tree Before Transport
If possible, have your tree baled—aka, wrapped in netting or twine—before strapping it to the roof of your car. This will ensure no branches get bent or broken on your journey.
Give It a Fresh Cut
Once you get your tree home, you’ll want to cut a few inches off the stem before putting it in your tree stand. “Give it a fresh cut when you get home before putting it in water,” recommends Dobbs. “If a tree bottom gets dried out, it can cover with sap—it means the tree is trying to heal the wound and will be unable to drink any water. A tree will last longer if it's happily hydrated!”
A straight cut across the stem is ideal. Some people like to cut the trunk at an angle, but this will only make it harder to stand up.
After your tree is set up, you’ll want to give it plenty of water. Fill up your tree stand with plain tap water every day, especially for the first week, as this is when it will absorb the most liquid. “You should check your water levels morning and night,” says Dobbs. “Always make sure there is water in the bowl.” If you skimp on watering, your Christmas tree will likely dry out prematurely.
Keep It in a Cool Location
The location of your Christmas tree will also dictate how long it lasts. “Keep your tree away from any heat sources, such as next to a fireplace, heater or placed in a window that gets direct sunlight,” says Dobbs. “If you are not planning to decorate your tree right away, we suggest keeping it in water outside and protected from the elements until you do!” Lowering the room temperature can also help prevent your tree from drying out too quickly, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.
Use LED Christmas Lights
Believe it or not, the type of lights you use on your Christmas tree can also affect its lifespan. Incandescent lights often get hot if left on for several hours, which may dry out your tree. On the other hand, LED Christmas lights stay cool to the touch, which will help your tree last longer and also reduce the risk of fire.
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