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How To Keep A Christmas Tree Alive All Season Long

Having a real tree in your home for the holidays is a tradition that many families cherish. But whether you choose to cut your tree or buy one, keeping it alive and healthy can be challenging — and totally worth it!

Believe it or not, proper Christmas tree care can actually allow you to enjoy your Christmas tree all season long! After reading this guide, we’re sure you’ll agree.

Cut Trees Or Live Trees?

We should start by getting aligned on the terminology. While both under the umbrella of “real trees,” cut trees and live trees are very different things.

It seems that most people are purchasing “cut” trees, which are trees that have been cut at the trunk’s base. They are separated at the roots, so we can fit them inside tree stands. These trees last for the holiday season, but they are then thrown out.

True live trees are either trees that have been grown in containers or dug up from the ground and potted.

While most of this article is about cut Christmas trees, we should point out that a potted Christmas tree is an excellent choice for the festive season. If you’re choosing to have one of these trees, they shouldn’t be inside as long as cut trees. It’s not typically advisable to keep them inside for longer than two weeks.

When transitioning a living Christmas tree back to the wild, you should start by placing them in a cool, but not cold, location, such as an unheated garage. This gives them time to acclimate before you release them into a cold climate.

Start By Choosing The Right Tree

The best place to purchase a tree is from a Christmas tree farm, where you can actually cut down the tree.

Not only is this a fun outing for the whole family, but you’re able to buy a fresh tree that hasn’t been shipped from out of state, exposed to cold, dry wind, and shoved on a parking lot.

If Christmas tree farms are not an option, we recommend going to a nursery or a Christmas tree lot where fresh cuts are made on the tree after purchase. A fresh cut allows for the tree to absorb water well, which is the most important attribute of a healthy tree.

And if you want the perfect tree, don’t wait to be a last-minute shopper. Late December buyers are much more likely to get a brittle tree covered in already-brown needles. The freshest tree on the market is usually the one that lasts the longest.

Interested in growing other festive plants? Start with our guide on the Christmas Cactus.

Attributes Of A Healthy Christmas Tree

When shopping for a live tree, here are some key characteristics you should look for.

Check that the needles on the Christmas tree are a dark green color and not brown.

Run a branch through your hand to test the tree. Move on if the needles come off or the branch appears brittle. Wrinkled bark, discolored needles, and a musty odor are some indicators of a dry or failing tree.

You can also bend the branches a bit to make sure it’s pliable, which is a sign of a healthy tree. 

Did You Know?

Both Scotch pines and White pines are known for their good needle retention. If you plan to have heavy ornaments, you should probably use a Scotch pine. White pine has more flexible wood that may bend too much.

Have The Tree Shaken

If possible, have the Christmas tree seller mechanically shake the tree before you leave the farm/lot/nursery. This gets rid of dead, loose needles, especially in species such as pine trees and red cedar.

Not only does this make the tree look better, but it means you have to worry less about a mess when you get home.

Shop Around For A Tree Stand

A sturdy tree stand is key if you want to keep a real Christmas tree alive for weeks or even months. It should also be large enough to hold a significant amount of water. I like a stand that can hold at least a gallon of water.

Cut The Trunk When You Get Home

When you get home with your tree, you should typically make a straight cut on the base of the tree trunk, which helps with water absorption.

Some people will tell you to drill a hole in the base of the trunk, but this will not improve the water uptake at all.

Either place your tree immediately in a tree stand or let it sit in a bucket of water or container of water while you’re getting the space set up.

If you leave the tree out too long, the sap around the trunk will dry, making it difficult for the Christmas tree to absorb water. Most species of trees can go six hours or more and still absorb water.

Give Your Christmas Tree Plenty Of Water

The most important thing for keeping your fresh cut tree alive is water. You should plan to fill up the entire basin of the Christmas tree stand every single morning.

A general rule of thumb is that every inch of the tree’s diameter calls for one quart of water.

That said, the best way is to fill the tree stand basin up with fresh water, and the tree drinks as much as it needs during the day.

What Kind Of Water?

Plain tap water is perfectly fine for a cut Christmas tree. You don’t need anything distilled or rainwater. Any water is adequate water, especially if you’re only planning to keep the tree for a month.

Light Needs

Too much direct light is a danger for your cut Christmas tree. Setting it next to a south-facing window can dry it out prematurely. If you must place it in a window that receives direct light, consider using a sheer curtain to soften the light a bit.

This way, your neighbors can still see the tree, but it doesn’t turn into a brittle crisp in the sun.

Cool Temperatures

Cool temperatures can help a live tree live longer inside. Lowering the room temperature can be a good way to preserve the tree and keep its needles from drying out.

Do not keep them near open heat vents, radiators, or fireplaces, as these will dry out the Christmas tree and cause the needles to fall off prematurely. And frankly, it’s a fire hazard.

If you must place it near heating vents, use the dial to close them.

LED Christmas Tree Lights

If you’re placing lights on your tree, consider using options that emit only low levels of heat. Traditional incandescent lights may be a bit more affordable and have a warm glow, but they generally produce more heat, which can dry out your Christmas tree faster.

LED Christmas lights, on the other hand, emit much less heat and use less energy. What’s more, they’re significantly longer lasting than the incandescent options.

Don’t Leave Your Tree Up Too Long

The last thing to think about is the inevitable decline of the tree. While real trees are beautiful, there comes a time when you need to take them down. It’s best to remove the tree before it dries too much. You can expect significantly more pine needles to fall if you wait too long, which is a cleaning nightmare.


Fresh cut trees are a symbol of the Christmas season, and with the proper care, you could potentially have them all the way through the new year! Use these Christmas tree care tips, and your fresh-cut tree will thrive!

Have you had success with Christmas trees? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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