From vodka in the water to IV tubes in the trunk, there are lots of urban myths about how to take care of a cut Christmas tree.
Chal Landgren, a Christmas tree specialist with Oregon State University Extension Service, busts those myths with answers to some common questions.
Q. How do I know a tree is fresh when I buy it?
A. Choose a tree that looks green and healthy, with needles that snap like a fresh carrot. Shake it a few times to get rid of old needles. Once you’re home, place the tree in water if you do not plan to put it up immediately. Choose a large, water-filled stand to display the tree indoors. Check the water level daily. Trees will be thirsty the first few days inside a heated home.
Q. Do I need to recut the stem afterI get my tree home?
A. Yes, if more than 24 hours has elapsed since the stem was last cut. The fresh cut helps water uptake. The sooner you can get the tree into water, the fresher it will be.
Q. Do I need to cut 2 inches off the tree base for it to take up water in the stand?
A. No, cutting a 1/4-inch slice off the base is plenty for water uptake.
Q. Do I need to cut the base of the tree at an angle, drill holes in the base or install plastic tubes so the tree can get water?
A. No. Water begins the path up the tree via microscopic tubes—called tracheids—in the wood just beneath the bark. The wood near the outer part of the stem is efficient at conducting water and becomes less so toward the center. Cut the stem perpendicular to the trunk to maximize the area exposed to water. Complicated cuts, drilled holes or IV tubes do not help.
Q. Do I need to add something to the water to help the tree stay fresher?
A. People have added all kinds of things to water, including vodka, 7-Up, bleach, aspirin and sugar. However, clean, cold water is all that is needed. Some additives can cause your tree to shed needles or dry out more rapidly.
Q. Will any tree stand work, as long as it holds the tree up?
A. No. A stand should hold a quart of water for every inch of stem diameter. A tree with a 6-inch stem diameter will need a stand that holds a gallon and a half of water. Few stands have the capacity for today’s large trees. Consider buying a new stand—or a smaller tree—if the water capacity is not adequate.
Q. If my decorated tree runs out of water, do I need to take it down and recut the base?
A. No. If you refill the water stand within 24 hours of going dry, most trees should rehydrate just fine. For a grand fir, 12 hours may be the limit. Of course, it is best if the tree does not run out of water, so check it every day.
Your tree may not be the only one drinking from the tree stand. Your pets may be helping themselves to the water, too. Check the water level daily, especially in the first few days. If your tree becomes dry and brittle, it may be time to take it down.