How to Keep Your Christmas Tree Alive Longer

You spent real money on a real Christmas tree — here's how to keep it alive.

watering a Christmas tree
(Image credit: Getty Images)

So you've weighed up whether to buy a fake or a real Christmas tree and plumped for the real one this year, at an average cost of between $80-100. That's already 5-15% more than last year, according to the Real Christmas Tree Board (opens in new tab). Throw in the cost of Christmas lights, your nicest ornaments, and the presents underneath the three, and it all adds up to a real holiday investment. 

But what if the tree's branches are starting to droop, and the needles look a little dry? Here's what you can do to keep your home's festive centerpiece perky throughout the whole holiday season.

1. Pick a fresh Christmas tree

It starts from the beginning... The Michigan Christmas Tree Association (opens in new tab) (MCTA) recommends you choose the freshest tree possible. 

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Test for freshness by gently grasping a branch and drawing your hand down the branch.  A few green or brown needles falling off isn't a big deal, but if lots of green needles come off, try a different tree. 

2. Make a fresh cut

MCTA advises that you cut at least one inch off the base of the tree when you get it home — before you put it into a tree stand or container. This will improve the ability of the trunk to absorb water. Forget the cut, and you'll definitely have more falling needles than you can handle. 

3. Use fresh water

According to the Christmas tree experts at Michigan State University (opens in new tab), a fresh tree can use up to 1 quart of water per day for each inch of diameter on the cut end. A typical 7-foot-tall tree with a 3-inch trunk diameter needs up to 3 quarts of water per day. 

MCTA (opens in new tab) recommends that you place your tree in fresh water as soon as you bring it home. This can be a designated Christmas tree stand or a suitable bowl.  Check the water level once or twice a day and always keep the base of the tree trunk submerged in a small amount of water.

You want your tree to be drinking a lot of water, which shows the tree is fresh and hydrated.

4. Avoid special additives

It's become a trend to add sugar or bleach or flower food to your tree's water. Your family may even have a homebrew additive you swear by each holiday season. Resist the urge. 

The American Society for Horticultural Science (opens in new tab) tested a range of Christmas tree additives for needle retention potential, and the results show you're better off just using distilled water for overall tree health, cost, and hassle factors:

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Christmas Tree AdditiveNeedle Loss Percentage
Clorox bleach99.5%
Generic Aspirin72.3%
"Tree Life"33.3%
"Yule Prolong"29.3%
"Floralife"27.6%
"Tree Care"13.3%
"Crop-Life"9.1%
"Keeps-it-Green"9.0%
Distlilled water6.0%
Sugar5.8%
7-Up5.3%

Unsurprisingly the bleach did not help with needle retention...

5. Avoid heat sources

You should keep your tree away from fireplaces, radiators, heat vents and other heat sources, according to the National Fire Prevention Association (opens in new tab). Exposure to heat can dry your tree out early, creating a floor full of needles and an immediate fire hazard. 

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (opens in new tab) ran tests that showed a dry Christmas tree that catches fire will burn an entire room in a mere 20 seconds (opens in new tab). By comparison, a fire set multiple times in a watered Christmas tree smoldered briefly before going out on its own. The safety difference between dry and watered couldn't be more clear. 

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Ben Demers
Audience Engagement Manager, Kiplinger.com

Ben Demers manages audience engagement at Kiplinger, informing readers through a broad spectrum of personal finance content across social media, articles, e-newsletters, syndicated content, and videos. He is passionate about helping people lead their best lives through sound financial behaviors, particularly saving money at home and avoiding scams and identity theft. Ben graduated with an M.P.S. from Georgetown University and a B.A. from Vassar College. He joined Kiplinger in May 2017.