12 Days of Experts: 9 Tips for Keeping a Christmas Tree Fresh, 4 Trees You Should Know (Slideshow)

Picture of Christmas tree branch with lights

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A Christmas tree’s best friend is water, says a forestry expert with Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Given good hydration and other proper care, a cut Christmas tree should stay fresh indoors for at least a month, said Kathy Smith, forestry program director in the college’s School of Environment and Natural Resources.

That’s true at least for the Christmas tree species commonly sold in Ohio, Smith said, four of which you can see in the accompanying slideshow.

The slideshow includes details provided by Jim Brown, forestry professor emeritus in the school, who has been called the father of the Canaan fir for his research to develop the now widely grown species as a successful commercial Christmas tree. (Photos by K.D. Chamberlain, CFAES Communications.)


Smith, as part of her work, leads the Ohio Woodland Stewards Program, a statewide educational effort aimed at helping people take care of trees, forests and wildlife. The college’s outreach arm, Ohio State University Extension, runs the program.

Below, Smith shares key tips for keeping one’s tannenbaum in possession of its needles.

  • Make sure the tree is fresh. Cut it yourself at a cut-your-own Christmas tree farm. Or, if you shop at a retail lot …
  • Take a light grip on one of the tree’s branches. Then pull the branch lightly through your hand. A fresh tree will lose few, if any, green needles. Two other options are to …
  • Hold the tree by its trunk and shake it. Or bounce the bottom of the trunk on the ground. Again, a fresh tree should lose few, if any, green needles.
  • Keep the tree in a cool, protected place if you don’t plan to take it indoors right away. Put it under an overhang, say, or in an unheated garage or porch.

ONLINE QUIZ: Test your knowledge of Christmas trees at go.osu.edu/ChristmasTreeQuiz.

  • If you’re going to store the tree outside for a couple of days, put the end of its trunk in a bucket of water. But first …
  • If the tree has been cut for more than 6-8 hours — and so has been out of water that long — make a new, straight cut at the bottom of the trunk. Use a saw to cut an inch or so off the end. Otherwise, during that time, sap will have started to seal the original cut. The tree won’t take up water as well, or maybe not at all, and will dry out sooner than it should.
  • Keep the room cooler than normal, if possible, once you set up the tree. If you can, turn down the thermostat, or close or partly close the room’s heat vents. This slows down the tree’s drying out.
  • For the same reason, locate the tree away from heat vents, fireplaces, radiators and windows that get direct sunlight.
  • Last but not least, keep the tree, yes, watered. Ideally, use a tree stand that can hold at least 1 gallon of water, and more for bigger trees. The key: Keep it filled. Don’t let the water get lower than the end of the trunk. If the water gets too low, the end will seal with sap. And you know what happens then: Less or no uptake of water; premature drying out.

Jim Brown, right, Ohio State University forestry professor emeritus, poses with Roger Dush, co-owner of the Pine Tree Barn Christmas tree farm, on Dush’s farm in Wooster. (Photo: K.D. Chamberlain, CFAES Communications.)  

Regarding the second and third tips: Brown needles are another story. Every year, a growing Christmas tree normally sheds some of its needles. Thousands of these dead brown needles may collect in the branches.

That’s why Christmas tree sellers often give a tree a good shake — either by hand or by using a special machine — when someone buys the tree: to get rid of these perfectly normal but still possibly carpet-messing brown needles.

To learn more, read “Selecting and Caring For Your Cut Christmas Tree,” an OSU Extension fact sheet available free at go.osu.edu/ChristmasTree.

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CFAES News Team
For more information, contact: 

Kathy Smith

Jim Brown