Outdoors

Tips for first-time real Christmas tree owners

A person in a plaid shirt and sata hat loading a tree onto their car Photo by sockagphoto/Shutterstock

First year getting a real Christmas tree? We’ve got you covered with the best tips and tricks to keep your tree in top shape, starting from the moment you leave the tree farm to when you finally get home and put up your gorgeous evergreen for decorating. While real or “live” Christmas trees have become more expensive over the past few years due to factors like inflation and supply issues, they continue to be popular choices for families because they’re considered more environmentally friendly compared to fake trees, which are often made of plastic and end up in the trash. Here’s everything you need to know about caring for your first real Christmas tree.

Getting your tree home safely 

Selecting the ideal Christmas tree is challenging, but getting the tree home safely is another difficult task entirely. Which way should you angle the tree on the roof of your car? Should you use rope or bungee cords? The best option is to use ratchet straps. And three of them! Ratchet straps are a great choice because they ensure your tree is snug and secure to the roof of your car, plus, you won’t have to worry about fraying cords and broken twine. Use one near the base of the tree, one in the middle, and one near the top. Another tip: Once you place your tree on top of your car, ensure the trunk is facing forwards. This limits wind damage and helps the branches maintain moisture. 

Properly storing your tree at home

If you can’t put your tree up as soon as you get home, there’s some best practices you should follow in terms of how and where to store it. Mark MacGowan, co-owner of MacGowan’s Christmas Tree Farm in Kinburn, Ont., suggests keeping your tree away from hot, sunny areas, as well as windy spots (like the side of a shed). Both heat and wind will dry the tree out. Instead, store your tree somewhere cool and sheltered, like inside a shed or garage, until you’re ready to bring it inside.

Caring for your tree at home

Once your tree is ready to make its big debut, you’ll want to cut a hockey-puck-sized slice off the trunk before putting it in its stand. MacGowan says this trim will remove any dried up wood that impedes water flow. The next step is to give your tree a good drink. “I prefer to use hot tap water, especially in the early days, because it’s kind of the same idea as when we wash our faces. Hot water opens up the pores,” says MacGowan. After that, you can switch to room temperature, says Mark Valyear, owner of Eastern Evergreen tree farm in Warkworth, Ont.. Most trees need water morning and night (or more!) for the first three to four days before their absorbency rate slows down, and if you notice your tree stops drinking after a few weeks, MacGowan suggests trying the hot water trick again. Trees love a spa day as much as anyone! 

Worried about overwatering your tree? Don’t be. It’ll only take in as much as it needs and no more. You also don’t need to add anything to the water. There’s no evidence that tree “hacks” like adding aspirin or fertilizer to your Christmas tree’s water are helpful (and they could make your pet sick if they steal a few drinks).

Dealing with needles

It’s natural for your tree to shed a bit throughout the holiday season, but if you feel like you’re constantly sweeping up needles, it could mean your tree is not fresh. “If you get a pre-cut tree from a farm or grocer, keep in mind that that tree could have been cut weeks, or even months ago,” says Valyear. For optimal freshness, your best bet is to visit a cut-your-own tree farm. Take it from MacGowan himself: “We usually put our fresh-cut tree up in the middle of November…and we take it down between Christmas and New Years. You get next to no needle drop in that timeframe.”

If your only option is to purchase a pre-cut tree, ask when the tree has been chopped and do a quick branch test. Choose any tree limb and bend it: if it snaps back, the tree is fresh. If it snaps off—choose a new one, says Valyear.

It’s also worth noting that some trees are more prone to shedding compared to others. Valyear says spruce trees typically lose their needles faster compared to Fir varieties like Balsam, Canaan, and Fraser. “Fir trees are known for having better needle retention overall,” he says, adding their needles tend to feel softer, too.

Safety tips to remember 

Once your tree is up and decorated, it’s important to maintain its hydration levels. Check the water basin daily and ensure the bottom part of the tree’s trunk is always submerged. And don’t keep your tree near any open heat sources. It’s also important, much like with an artificial tree, to keep tinsel, garland, and ribbon away from low branches where they often prove irresistible to pets. The same goes for fragile ornaments. You don’t want small, curious children getting too close to grandma’s heirloom glass ornaments! 

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