Sometimes I think we should change the words of the song “O Christmas Tree” to “Poor Christmas Tree.”
After all, this iconic symbol of a beloved winter holiday is tortured for weeks: We cover it with lights and ornaments and display it in a home that is usually blowing hot air during the cold month of December, and it barely receives enough water to survive until it’s time to unwrap presents on Christmas morning.
Is it any surprise that dead pine needles cover our floors and the dried-up tree eventually becomes a fire hazard (remember that scene in Christmas Vacation?)
A live Christmas tree is lovely (for those who don’t have allergies), but keeping it healthy long enough to last through the holiday can be a challenge. I've heard all the old wives' tales about using aspirin, Mountain Dew and voo-doo to extend the life of the tree, but I'm not quite convinced the hype is true. I'll do us both a favor and offer some cheap, practical ways to keep your real tree looking picture perfect all the way through the holiday season.
Trim the trunk
Cut the bottom 1/2 to 1 inch of your tree to expose the fresh wood. If you're not handy — or your husband is busy untangling a bundle of lights so massive it would make Clark Griswold proud — ask the tree farm or home improvement store (which sell trees for a fraction of the price) to cut the trunk's bottom for you. The fresh, exposed wood not only absorbs water, but you've also just eliminated a layer of sap that naturally forms when the tree is originally cut. The crusty sap layer protects the tree from damage but also prevents it from efficiently absorbing water.
Make sure tree stand is the right size
Display your tree in an appropriate-sized tree stand and give it water immediately. If you get home and the tree stand is too small, don't freak. Call around and ask your fellow Christmas tree purists if they have an extra stand lying around. If not, check your local thrift stores. While you're there, pick up a few decorations for the tree on the cheap. Fill the tree stand at least half-way and set up your tree right away. The size of the tree stand is crucial. If it's too small it won't support the tree's weight or provide adequate water. Too big and you have a wobbly tree, which is obviously bad.
Display in a cool area
Set up your tree in a cool spot. Get the pictures of trimming the tree next to your roaring fire out of your head. Not only is this a safety hazard, the warmth will dry out your tree and cause the dreaded needle mess to multiply.
Don’t let it get thirsty
Water your tree like a maniac. Check it 50 times a day, and every time the tree stand's reservoir starts to run dry, add more water. I can't stress this enough. Also, don't let your tree stand turn into your dog's second water bowl. Keep Fido away from the Christmas tree to prevent denying it this much-needed resource.
Now it's time to tackle a controversial topic, additives. I'll save you the time of scouring the Internet for weird concoctions and cheap products — including corn syrup, aspirin or 7-Up — that are supposed to give you a mutant tree that will live until Easter Sunday. These products are superfluous. All the sweet smell of Mountain Dew or Sprite will do is entice your pets to the water. Skip them, and keep your tree on a strict water diet.
Use a humidifier for extra moisture
Humidifiers do more than help stuffy noses. My florist suggests using a room humidifier several hours a day, which can help keep the needles fresher longer, as well as reduce fire risk since the needles won't be as dry. The moisture will be absorbed well by the tree and help it retain color as well.
Prune trouble spots
Just like houseplants need pruning, so do trees. Remove any dead branches or wilted sections when you see them. This way, the tree is not wasting energy on trying to repair those troubled spots.
Upgrade to LED lights
Invest in LED Christmas lights. Here are some statistics for all of you non-believers who want to resurrect the lights your father's father used to trim his tree. LED Christmas lights use 33% less power than traditional strands, while providing you with around 4,000 hours of life. The LED lights run cooler, which keeps your tree from drying out. They’ve also become a lot cheaper over the years. The initial investment is worth the energy and beauty of these bright lights.
Once the last Christmas cookie is gobbled down and it's time to take down your real tree, don't simply toss it on the curb for an unceremonious garbage pick-up. Contact your local waste management or recycling center to inquire if your city picks up trees to be turned into mulch.