If you celebrate Christmas, you know there’s nothing like having a real Christmas tree in your home. The adventure of heading to your local Christmas tree farm, picking out the perfect fir, pine or spruce, then bringing it home is half the fun — but the magic really begins once your tree is all dressed up for the holidays.
To keep your tree’s sparkle alive for as long as possible indoors, the home care experts at the Good Housekeeping Institute have rounded up our best tips for making sure that your tree is still looking fresh come Christmas morning.
How long do real Christmas trees last?
With proper care, most real Christmas trees should last at least five weeks or more.
That means, if you decorate for Christmas in late November, your tree should easily survive beyond the holiday festivities. However, we suggest buying your Christmas tree during the first week of December to ensure you aren’t left with a dried up, brittle tree come December 25.
How to keep a Christmas tree alive for longer
Follow our tips to keep your Christmas tree looking fresh long after it’s cut.
1. Start with a healthy Christmas tree from a local farm.
If you buy your tree from a garden store or roadside lot, it’s likely that it came from out-of-state and has been exposed to drying winds in transit — meaning, it’s going to have a much shorter shelf life than one that you’ve chopped down yourself at a local tree farm. Either way, it’s essential to know how to choose the freshest possible Christmas tree.
Keep these tips in mind as you hunt for you Christmas tree:
- Look for a healthy, green tree with the least amount of brown needles.
- Select a tree displayed in a shady location. Avoid picking from a sunny area.
- Run a few branches through your hands. The needles should feel pliable and not fall off.
- Raise the tree a few inches, then drop the trunk into the ground. Very few green needles should fall off (but it’s fine if the tree loses a few brown ones).
2. Trim the trunk (and then trim it again).
When you purchase a Christmas tree, double-check that the seller makes a fresh cut straight across the base of the trunk to aid water absorption. This gets rid of any dried-over resin that might block the tree from absorbing water.
When you get home, if you’re not putting your tree up right away, place it in a bucket of water. (Note that you should always store real trees in an unheated garage or area that’s protected from wind and freezing temperatures.)
When you’re ready to bring it inside, make another one-inch cut off the bottom of the trunk to help with water absorption.
3. Check the water level of your Christmas tree daily.
Once inside, place your tree in a sturdy stand that holds at least one gallon of water. Then don’t forget to regularly water your Christmas tree — too little can cause resin to form, which means the tree won’t absorb water and it will dry out quickly.
Much more is at risk than just aesthetics — a dry Christmas tree can pose a real danger to your home. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that between 2015 and 2019, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 160 home fires started by Christmas trees each year. It can take less than 30 seconds for a dry tree to burn down most of your living room — but that’s not the case with a watered Christmas tree.
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So how much water does your tree need? “Your stand should have a water reservoir that can hold one quart of water for every inch of the trunk’s diameter,” advises Rachel Rothman, the Good Housekeeping Institute’s executive technical director. Just remember to check the water level daily and refill as needed — it should always cover the bottom two inches of the trunk.
Even though you’ve heard people talk about adding things like bleach, corn syrup, aspirin, and sugar to the water, we believe tree preservatives and additives are probably unnecessary. Most experts agree that plenty of clean water is all you need to keep a tree fresh.
EXPERT TIP: If you lower the temperature in the room, it can also help slow down the drying process (and therefore result in your tree requiring a bit less water), according to the National Christmas Tree Association.
4. Keep the Christmas tree away from heat sources.
Sure, there’s nothing more lovely than a beautifully decorated Christmas tree beside a roaring fireplace — but, along with frayed Christmas lights, candles, radiators, air ducts and stoves, a regularly used fireplace could contribute to your tree drying out at a much quicker pace. Plus, the NFPA reports that nearly 1/5 of Christmas tree fires are caused by a tree being too close to a heat source.
If your home is prone to dryness, try using a top-rated humidifier to add moisture to the room. The Good Housekeeping Institute Tech Lab recommends the Levoit Ultrasonic Humidifier for large areas (like the living room!). It performed well in our tests and can add enough moisture to the air to keep your tree fresh longer.
5. Take your tree down before it dries out.
If you wait too long to take down your Christmas tree, you’ll just end up with more dead pine needles to deal with. The easiest way to clean up fallen needles is by using your vacuum’s hose — skip the fancy attachments and just use the end of the hose to draw needles directly into the bag or canister.
When you’re officially done with your tree, you have a couple options: You can start a new compost pile with it, recycle it or turn it into mulch yourself. You can also ask your town about what types of disposal options it offers, if you’re looking for a more eco-friendly solution.
Carolyn Forté brings more than 40 years of experience as a consumer products expert to her role as executive director of the Good Housekeeping Institute‘s Home Care and Cleaning Lab. Using deep analytical testing and writing expertise in appliances, cleaning, textiles and organizational products, she produces cleaning and home care advice for GH, has authored numerous books and bookazines for the brand and partners with the American Cleaning Institute to co-produce the Discover Cleaning Summits. She holds a bachelor’s degree in family and consumer sciences from Queens College, City University of New York.
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