Your real tree, once cut, is like fresh fruit in regards to its useful life expectancy. Just like fruit, care needs to be exercised in the trees selection and subsequent care according to Daniel Cassens, Professor in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Purdue University and member of the National Christmas Tree Association. Over half of the tree's weight consists of water when first cut and it is important that the water content be maintained.
First, it is important to select a fresh tree. If you cut the tree at a choose-and-cut farm, it has to be fresh. If the tree is pre-cut, make sure the needles are flexible and firmly attached to the stem. Also, the tree should look “normal” and not crushed with broken branches and distorted or missing needles. Fresh looking trees indicate they have been well cared for.
Fresh cut trees should be kept out of the sun and wind to prevent accelerated dehydration. If the tree needs to be temporarily stored, place it in an unheated building or on the north side of a building where it will be less exposed. It will also help to place the tree in a bucket of water.
Just before setting up the tree, using an inexpensive bow or other saw trim about one-half inch from the base of the trunk. The cut should be perpendicular to the main stem. If the tree cannot be set up within 6 to 8 hours, make another cut. About 6 to 8 hours after the cut is made, the living cells begin to die and become blocked so the tree cannot take up water.
The tree should now be placed in a stand capable of supporting the tree mechanically. Make sure the stand has extended legs to prevent the tree from tipping. Do not whittle down the outside diameter of the tree base. The outer layers of wood are the most effective in taking up water. The stand should also be able to hold at least one quart of water for each inch of stem diameter. A typical 7 foot tree will require a stand with a water holding capacity of about two gallons. Check the water level each day and add cool water as needed. Make sure the butt end of the tree stem is always in water contact. Some stands do not allow the stem to reach the bottom of the water holding container. Trees tend to take large quantities of water each day for the first week or so and then slow down. Remember, if the tree runs out of water, the cells in the very butt or exposed end will become blocked and subsequent water uptake will be prevented.
Keep the displayed tree away from any heat sources such as fireplaces, heaters, heat vents and direct sunlight. Lowering the room temperature will also slow the drying process.
Some tree lights can also produce excessive heat. Small lights or those that produce low heat will also help to reducing localized drying of the tree.
For more information about Christmas trees or to locate a choose-and-cut tree farm near you, please visit the National Christmas Tree Growers Association.
A Choose-and-Cut Pine and Fir Christmas Tree Case Study, The Education Store
Selecting an Indiana-Grown Christmas Tree, The Education Store
Tips for First-Time Buyers of Real Christmas Trees, The Education Store
Daniel Cassens, Professor of Wood Products
Department of Forestry and Natural Resources