The Ultimate Guide to Choosing and Caring for a Fresh Christmas Tree

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If you’re deciding to cut your own fresh Christmas tree this year, instead of taking the family on a Christmas tree adventure a la Clark Griswold, visit your local tree farm and follow these five steps to maintain your fresh Christmas tree in your home and avoid premature needle shedding throughout the holiday season.

1. Pick the Right Place in Your Home for Your Fresh Christmas Tree

It all starts with selecting the right place in your home to put your fresh Christmas tree. Make sure to find a place in your home that is away from heat sources (fireplaces, vents, space heaters, and candles) that can dry your tree out or catch it on fire as well as face it away from direct sunlight.

Once you have found the ideal place, measure the space (height and width) where the tree is going to have a good idea of what size tree you will need to get.

2. Pick the Right Fresh Christmas Tree

Just as important as picking the right place for your Christmas tree is picking the right Christmas tree for your home. So, take your time and decide which type of Christmas tree works best for your family, house, and the region where you live.

Here is a list of some common Christmas trees in North America.

  • Balsam Fir – This tree is known for its strong Christmas tree scent, conical shape, and full-colored green needles. It possesses a good needle retention rate after being cut and also works well with light ornaments. Naturally grows throughout the Northeastern U.S. and Canada.
  • Scotch Pine (most common Christmas tree in the U.S.) – Once cut, the dark green needles have an exceptional needle retention rate (meaning fewer needles get spread throughout the house). This tree possesses stiff, strong branches to hold large ornaments. Mostly grown in the Eastern U.S. and Canada.
  • Blue Spruce (aka Colorado Blue Spruce) – A conical, symmetrically shaped, bluish-gray colored Christmas tree with good needle retention. Naturally grows in the Western U.S. mountains from Idaho to New Mexico.
  • Douglas Fir (half of all Christmas trees sold) – This fresh Christmas tree is strongly scented with dark blue-green needles. Use for light decoration and in warmer climates during the holiday season. Native to the West Coast of the United States from Central California up through Alaska.
  • Virginia Pine (most popular Christmas tree in the South) – Conical in shape with bright yellow-green needles and strong, stout branches. Native to the South ranging from Central Pennsylvania to Northern Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.

Once you have found the ideal Christmas tree for your home, check the needles on the tree to make sure none of them are brown and check the trunk of the tree for straightness.

You want to get a fresh Christmas tree that is decently straight. After you have cut the tree, wrap it in plastic to avoid any damage to it on the ride home.

3. Cut the Tree Trunk Again


Now that you and your family have successfully made it home with your fresh Christmas tree, remove it from the car and unwrap it.

Stand the tree up outside, grab it with two hands, and hit it on the ground to shake any loose needles off. Try to put the tree up as soon as possible.

A freshly cut Christmas tree will try to heal itself by closing up the severed area of the trunk with sap. This prevents the tree from absorbing water, so you will need to make another cut before you put the tree in its stand and give it water. Make an additional cut straight across the trunk half an inch up from the original cut.

4. Water the Tree

The key to keeping your Christmas tree fresh is water and plenty of it. Once the trunk is cut the second time, get it into water right away. Use a stand with a wide and deep reservoir base that can hold up to a gallon of water. 

According to the National Christmas Tree Association for every inch of stem diameter, you should give the tree one quart of plain water (with no preservatives). No matter how big the diameter of the trunk is, you are going to need to check the water level daily.

Can’t Keep the Family Dog from Drinking the Fresh Christmas Tree Water?

Not only will the Christmas tree dry out faster when Lassie drinks the tree’s water, but they can also get sick from the bacteria that accumulate in the water. 

Most trees have fertilizer and pesticides used on them, which may contain harsh chemicals that can also get into the water. 

To deter your pet from drinking the Christmas tree water, make a hole in a garbage bag or cardboard box and put it over the tree stand. If you want something a little more decorative? Try a tree skirt.

5. Lights

Finally, you are ready to decorate the tree. It’s probably been a while (at least a year) since you looked at and inspected your lights. Check them for wear and tear. 

If it’s time to get new lights, get some LED lights. LED lights don’t heat as much as regular Christmas lights, so they are safer. They are also energy efficient, stronger, and longer-lasting.

Your tree looks great with its lights on, but don’t leave them on all the time. When you leave your house, go to bed, or leave the room for extended periods, turn them off to avoid drying out the tree and preventing fires.

You may also want to keep the room cool by lowering the temperature or using a humidifier. Fresh Christmas trees grow in an outside climate that is cooler and wetter.

Have a Cat That Won’t Stop Playing with the Christmas Tree Lights and Ornaments?


Not only do cats love climbing things, but they also love shiny stuff that hangs in the air. So when they see a fresh Christmas tree with glistening lights and ornaments, they are going to have a field day for the duration of the holidays.

Here are a few tips:

  1. Avoid using shiny ornaments or place them higher up and back inside the tree. Place your favorite ornaments higher up on the tree as well. If you have any bell-type ornaments, place them lower on the tree so you can hear when Garfield is playing with them.
  2. Hide the Christmas tree light cords the best you can and get a chew-safe cord cover to put over them.
  3. Mix turmeric and lemonade in a spray bottle and spray it around the tree. The bitter citrus smell should help keep the cat away.
  4. Cats don’t like loud noises. If you have some loose change, put it in a small aluminum box. Every time you see your cat start to play with an ornament, shake the box. Eventually (like Pavlov’s dog), they will associate playing with the Christmas tree equals loud annoying noise.


It was another great holiday season and now it’s time to prepare for the new year. So, what do you do with your not-so-fresh Christmas tree? Let’s start the New Year right (isn’t one of your New Year’s resolutions to recycle more?) and dispose of it the responsible way.

  1. Remove the lights, ornaments, and tree stand. Lay the tree on a tarp.
  2. Sweep up the tree needles, but don’t vacuum them because they can clog up the vacuum.
  3. Recycle – Google your recycling options in your area.
    • Many cities and communities offer curbside pick up for recycling Christmas trees for two weeks after Christmas.
    • Find a drop-off recycling center in your area.
    • Check with the tree farm where you got the tree. Some tree farms will take back the Christmas tree and recycle it.
    • Click here for a list of alternative ways to recycle your Christmas tree.

Now that winter is here, learn to protect yourself and your family during the winter months. Read our post – How to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in your home this winter to learn what to do.

12 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to Choosing and Caring for a Fresh Christmas Tree”

  1. Lovely article! It made me enter the Christmas spirit already and recall dear memories from childhood. I have to admit we never watered the tree, so it’s something I will try next time.
    I grew up with natural trees for Christmas, and artificial ones appeared somewhere in the last 15 years. They do not have that awesome smell, and the essences and sprays do not really make up for it.
    Regarding the disposal, all my childhood we used to cut the branches, except for the lower row, peel the brak and polish it. Oh, they made for some awesome swords!

  2. Hi, Marigold and Ivy,

    I love Christmas and especially putting up the Christmas tree and all the decorations associated with it.

    I’ve never had a natural tree in the house. We always put up an artificial tree, much more now with all this green thing, you know.

    I had never thought of trees needing water, but it’s obvious it will need some. It’s good to know in case I ever decide to put one up.

    Thanks for your excellent recommendations. I look forward to reading more from you.

  3. I love the pine smell from a real tree, but have an easy to assemble fibre optic Christmas tree nowadays! I never realised a cut tree tries to heal itself, or that you should stand it in water. If I ever get another real Christmas tree, I’ll remember that. My cat is always attracted by the sparkly lights, and your idea of rattling loose change in a box sounds good! Thank you for sharing:)

    • You’re welcome. We tried a lot of different things to get our cat to stop playing with Christmas ornaments and other decorations around the house. The only thing that worked every time was the coin box (as we call it).

  4. I’ve never actually thought about buying a different kind of christmas tree. That is definitely a first step in having and maintaining your christmas tree fresh. Also, it looks obvious but we often forget that we have to water the plant as well as cutting the tree trunk.

    I will definitely not make the same mistake I did last year.

    Thank you for this.

  5. Great tips! I always had a Christmas tree in my house for the Holidays and since I left my parents’ house I don’t buy one anymore. When you’re alone it’s a lot of work! But these tips could really help me out. I’ll share them with my parents too so that their Christmas tree stays beautiful. My mother has always been afraid about Christmas tree in fire so I’ll suggest her the tips you talked about here. Thank you for sharing, it was very interesting!

    • Thank you Audrey. I hope these tips are useful for your mother. She will want to keep the tree watered to avoid it from drying out and becoming more susceptible to fire.

  6. Hi,

    Some great tips here that would definitely help to maintain a Christmas tree fresh.

    Although I love the smell of a Christmas tree and the holiday atmosphere it creates in my home, there are a few years now since I opt for an artificial Christmas tree simply because I got too sensitive about cutting the Christmas trees out from the ground for the sake of having them inside for the short holiday season.

    Some of the tips provided here will also do for an artificial Christmas tree so thank you for sharing this!


    That’s a really sad picture seeing them so many trashed out when the holiday season is over, especially knowing how many years are needed to grow a tree.


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