Are you, like many Western Pennsylvanians, putting up your real cut Christmas tree this weekend? Or maybe you put it up last weekend, right after Thanksgiving? And you’re hoping to keep it fresh through the holidays?
Your best bet for unfaded greenness might be to throw out that tree now and go buy an artificial one.
You’re asking for a lot -— a month — if you put up your real tree today and want it to last until Jan. 2. You could wait as people used to do. But experts say most trees can be viable for three to four weeks with proper care.
That starts with selecting a fresh tree — one with branches that are pliable and needles that don’t come off in your hand. Rick Bates, Ph.D., a professor in the department of plant science at Penn State University who specializes in Christmas tree management, says certain species, such as Fraser firs, tend to last longer than others, such as spruces and pines. At many places in the region, you can cut your own.
Even if you don’t do that, you may need to be prepared to do some sawing at home: If the tree was cut more than 12 hours before you set it up for display, the sap will seal the cut, so you’ll want to trim a thin disc off of the trunk, just about ¼ inch thick. That’s because the tree is going to need to soak up water and a lot of it.
Mr. Bates says that your tree’s trunk should be stored submerged in a water-filled bucket even before you put it up if it’s going to sit for a day or three first. (And if you’re going to store it like that, try to do so in a dark, unheated space such as your garage.)
When you do put up your tree, make sure you place it into a stand that holds enough water — about a quart for every inch of trunk diameter.
Because the outer rings of the tree are best at drinking up water, don’t make your cut in a diagonal or a V — just go straight across. You need not drill any holes or use IV-type hoses because that won’t help. Just make sure the base of the trunk always remains under water.
That means checking it often. As he writes, “A cut tree will absorb a surprising amount of water, particularly during the first week, so replenish the water daily.”
Do you need to put anything else into that water? Sugar? Aspirin? Cut-flower preservative powder? Gel?
No. Clean water is all you need. And it doesn’t matter if it’s cold or hot.
Mr. Bates advises keeping it simple and not bothering with spray-on anti-transpirants or flame retardants, which “can damage needles and actually increase the rate of moisture loss from trees.”
You can keep drying and fire hazards to a minimum by keeping your tree away from heat sources such as heat vents, your fireplace and even direct sunlight. Turning down your thermostat can help a tree last longer, too.
The National Christmas Tree Association points out that even your choice of lights can affect a tree’s moisture level in that miniature lights produce less heat.
That group’s experts point out that you should always inspect your lights before putting them on the tree, and do not overload your electrical circuits, and always turn off the tree lights when you leave the house or go to sleep.
And when you finally remove your tree from the house? Don’t just place in on the curb with the trash. Try to recycle it (read tips at www.realchristmastrees.org). As Mr. Bates points out, Americans harvest 25 million to 30 million trees a season.
That’s a lot of needles. The association notes that you can avoid getting them all over your house by planning ahead and placing a plastic tree bag, available at some hardware stores, under the tree stand before you set it up. (A large tarp would work, too.) You can hide it under the tree skirt. Then after the holidays, pull the bag or tarp up around the tree and stand and carry it outside, where you can remove and keep the stand for next year’s tree.
Bob Batz Jr.: email@example.com, 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.