May 27, 2018
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Taking care of Christmas trees

By Denise Ellsworth, Akron Beacon Journal

While out running errands this week, I noticed lots of Christmas trees strapped to car roofs. In case one of those cars was yours, I’m sharing a sampling of tree-related questions I’m often asked this time of year.

Q: How can I tell whether a tree is freshly cut before I buy it?

A: Fresh trees will have a healthy green appearance and few brown needles. Needles should be flexible and should not fall off when you run your hand over the branch. Raise the tree a few inches and let it fall on the cut end — very few, if any, green needles should fall off. It is normal for brown needles to be shed in this way. Ask the retailer where the trees were grown and when they were cut. Thanks to almost daily rains, cut trees have stayed fresh on the lot this year.

Q: How much water does my tree need?

A: Recently, a friend of mine shared with me that he never adds water to the tree stand once the tree is in place. Yikes. After I picked myself up off the floor, I calmly talked with my friend about the reason the Christmas season coincides with an upswing in house fires. Combine faulty lights, a little heat and lots of dry needles and it’s a disaster waiting to happen.

Since about half the weight of a freshly cut Christmas tree is water, it’s imperative to supply the tree with adequate fresh water. Once inside your dry, warm home, the needles will rapidly lose water and this water must be replaced. The general rule of thumb is to provide a quart of water for every inch diameter of the trunk. Most trees will need a reservoir of at least a gallon of water.

The water should be checked daily. Be sure that the water level never falls below the cut end of the trunk, since this can cause resin to build up, thereby preventing water from flowing upward once more water is supplied.

Q: What should I add to the water to keep my tree fresh?

A: It is not necessary to add anything, such as bleach, aspirin, floral preservative or sugar, to the tree water. Studies have shown that plain water does the best job in keeping a tree fresh.

Q: How much should I cut off the tree trunk when I get the tree home?

A: Remove about one inch of the trunk before putting the tree into its stand. This cut should be straight across, not angled. Do not shave off the tree’s bark to get it to fit into the tree stand; find a larger tree stand instead. Most of the water is taken up through the bark, so shaving it off will seriously limit water movement.

Q: How long will the tree stay fresh indoors?

A: Many factors affect how fresh the tree will remain, including what type of tree it is, the indoor temperature and humidity and how long ago it was cut. In general, pines such as Scot’s pine will hold onto their needles, while spruce trees are rather short-lived indoors. Once a tree starts to shed needles, it should be taken down and disposed of.

Q: What can I do with the tree after Christmas?

A: Never burn the tree in a wood stove or fireplace. Trees can be used in wooded areas or ponds to provide wildlife habitat. Check with your local park system or recycle center to see if it has a program to recycle trees.

When I was in college, I volunteered at Dawes Arboretum in Newark, Ohio. Dawes accepted used Christmas trees, which were chipped up and added to hiking paths. Believe it or not, trees would be dropped off for recycling with garland, lights and ornaments still attached. Suffice to say, recycled trees should be unadorned.

Denise Ellsworth is a horticultural educator with Ohio State University Extension. If you have questions about caring for your garden, call the Master Gardener hot line from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays at 330-928-GROW or write: Horticulture Educator, Summit County, 2525 State Road, Suite 250, Cuyahoga Falls, OH 44223. Include your phone number. Email questions to


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