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How to keep your Christmas tree alive and looking good

How to keep your Christmas tree alive and looking good

We love a real, live Christmas tree at Home & Garden Extras.

Although artificial Christmas trees are a great shortcut, there’s something special about going down the traditional route.

If you’re put off by not knowing how to care for a live Christmas tree, don’t worry. You don’t need your own grotto of elves to keep your holiday house guest happy – it’s not sleigh-rocket science.

Jokes aside, looking after a tree really isn’t difficult.

With the tips we’ve shared below, a decent Christmas tree stand, and a few minutes a day for some TLC, you and your Xmas tree will be fine.

To make things simple, we’ve written this article as a step-by-step guide. You’ll find advice on when you should get your live Christmas tree, the different varieties available, how to check if you’re buying a healthy tree, how to prepare your tree, when and how to water it, and, finally, options for disposal.

We hope that this guide helps and, more importantly, that you have a very merry Christmas!

If you want to jump to a specific section, just click on the relevant link below.


When should I buy my Christmas tree?

To properly care for your green, needle-loving friend, you need to start with a plan.

Firstly, when are you going to pick up your tree?

Commonly, real Christmas trees will last for five weeks if properly cared for – although they won’t look their best by the end of this period.

We’d recommend heading down to the garden centre or tree nursery at the start of December. Therefore, it might even be prudent to do so a little later depending on which variety you go for – but more on that in the next section.

Although trees might be a little cheaper in November, the earlier you get yours, the more likely it will be to look a little shabby when the big day comes. When you're getting your turkey ready in the wee hours of Christmas morning, you don’t want to be getting stressed out by bare branches!

Having said this, we totally understand if you want to bring the holiday spirit into your home a little earlier. We’re not the Ebenezer Scrooge of online gardening products.

If you do decide to get your tree earlier, just make sure to care for it properly so that it looks good for as long as possible. A healthy, well-watered Christmas tree is a happy Christmas tree!

A boy in a yellow coat stood in front of some Christmas trees

What should I consider when choosing my Christmas tree?

As previously stated, it’s important to have a plan. Now that you’ve got an idea of when to get your tree, you need to consider what tree you want.

Plan ahead: Give yourself enough space and be safe

You need to make sure your Christmas tree has a great place to stay.

Avoid choosing a spot near sources of heat such as radiators or fireplaces. Heat will dry out your tree, making its needles more likely to fall and maybe even create a fire hazard.

If you’re going to have electric-powered decorations, make sure that your spot is near a plug. You don’t want extension cords upon extension cords creating tripping or – you guessed it – fire hazards.

Perhaps most importantly, measure your chosen spot with a tape measure – and remember to bring the same tape measure when you buy your tree!

Specifically, check what horizontal and vertical space you have to play with. And make sure to include your chosen stand in your calculations – we’ve all made that mistake before.

Talking of which, it’s time to grab a stand if you don’t have one already.

A decorated Christmas tree in a living room
Choose what kind of Christmas tree stand you want

You can’t underestimate the importance of choosing the right Christmas tree stand. Not only do they hold your tree in place, they also allow you to keep them well-watered.

To begin with, consider what height of Christmas tree you want. As a rule of thumb, the larger the stand, the larger the tree it can take. Make sure to refer to the manufacturer's guidance for how tall a tree your chosen stand can take.

The inches in the products’ names refer to the diameter of trunk that the stand can take. Don’t worry if the trunk you want to go for is a little thin compared to this number, just make sure to go for a stand with thumbscrews. These will let you secure your tree.

It’s also worth considering at this point whether you want to invest in a Christmas tree skirt. Although some enjoy the look of a bare stand (we think scrolled Christmas tree stands are particularly lovely), others prefer to cover them up.

Pick which kind of tree you want ahead of time

As well ask knowing the size of Christmas tree you want (make a checklist: height including stand, branch width, and trunk width), you should consider what type of tree you want.

Yes, a ‘Christmas tree’ isn’t a type of tree in and of itself!

There are two main choices for Christmas trees: the Nordmann Fir and the Norway Spruce.

Each type has different characteristics, but all can be used for decorating a home for Christmas!

1. Nordmann Fir

By far the most popular type of Christmas Tree in Europe, the Nordmann Fir (or Abies Nordmanniana if you want the proper, scary name) is a great, low-hassle option.

This option is renowned for holding on to its soft-edged needles. Less clean-up is always a massive benefit in our book!

This type of tree is also scentless. Depending on your taste, this could be an advantage or disadvantage.

Finally, thanks to its thick waxy coating, the Nordmann fir is a wonderful choice for people with allergies.

A forest of Nordmann Firs
2. Norway Spruce

If you want to go down the traditional route, the Norway Spruce is the tree for you.

This variety boasts a lovely shape with lots of branches that are perfect for hanging ornaments in abundance, as well as a lovely ‘Christmassy’ scent.

The Norway Spruce can quickly lose its needles once brought indoors, so it's best to buy one closer to Christmas. To help your spruce retain its needles longer, keep it away from radiators and make sure it receives daily watering.

A potential downside for those with particularly spacious homes is that they aren’t quite as tall as other varieties.

A forest of Norway Spruces
How to check if a live Christmas tree is healthy

When you shop for a Christmas tree, it's important to get one that’s in good condition.

Here’s what to look for:

  • The tree’s needles should be green and healthy. If they're dry, dull, or brown, move on to the next tree.
  • Each branch should be firm yet elastic. A healthy branch will bounce back when you press down on it; if you feel any give at all or if it snaps off easily, pass on that tree!
  • Check for signs of insects or worms. If there are any holes in the trunk or limbs (or if you see bugs – the biggest giveaway), don't buy the tree.
  • Give the tree a gentle shake. If a lot of its needles fall when you do so, that's another indicator that this isn't a good choice.

Before we move on, we have a quick reminder. Bring a tape measure! You don’t want to be cramming your tree into your living room because your eye-balling isn’t as accurate as you thought.

Two children carrying a tree in the snow

What should I do when I get my Christmas tree home?

Now that you’ve got the perfect tree, it’s time to get it ready!

Find a suitable place and saw the bottom inch of the tree

When you get your tree home, you’ll want to take it to a cool, sheltered place to prepare it. If you don't have a garage, you could put it in the shed or the shade of a porch.

Cut off the bottom inch of the trunk with a saw. You need to do this as sap forms after five hours of a tree being cut, creating a seal that’ll stop water absorption.

Don’t use an axe, as doing so runs the risk of splitting the trunk.

If you’re a little intimidated by the idea of using a saw and only have a short trip home, you may be able to ask your tree supplier to cut for you. Just make sure to get to the next step of placing the tree in water within a few hours.

Finally, don't drill into the tree or cut a ‘V’ shape at its base! Despite the unbidden advice you might receive from a Christmas know-it-all, this will just damage your tree and hinder water absorption.

A lot of netted Christmas trees stood against a wall
Once cut, place your Christmas tree in a bucket of water to hydrate

Although you can place your tree into its stand straight away, we’d recommend going for a large bucket in your preparation area instead.

Doing so will give the tree a chance to take up more water (they can absorb up to four-and-a-half litres in a day when freshly cut!) and will make it easier to observe how it’s getting in.

Leave the tree in its bucket for at least eight hours, replenishing the water as and when the level lowers.

If the water goes beneath the cut, sap starts to form at the cut, or no water is being absorbed by the tree, cut off another inch and start again.

It might seem like overkill, but patience is a virtue – and you want to be in Santa’s good books this time of year!

Cut and netted Christmas trees on their sides
Place your tree in its proper stand

After a minimum of eight hours in the bucket, it’s time to place your Christmas tree in its proper stand.

Before doing so, we’d recommend putting down some protection on the floor – even some old newspaper will do.

Give the tree a quick shake before you move it to get rid of any of the last loose needles.

To make things easier, get a friend or family member to help you put up the tree, one of you holding the trunk stable whilst the other focuses on the stand.

Once the tree is in place and secure, give it a few hours to settle before you start decorating.

A woman with a mug sat on the floor looking up at an undecorated Christmas tree

How do I decorate my tree safely?

Now for the fun part!

We’ll leave you and your family to make the aesthetic decisions; but we have some points on safety.

Firstly, make sure that there’s no wetness on the branches or needles. Moisture will cause the light bulbs to blow out more easily, so make sure everything’s dry before plugging them in.

Finally, don't overload the branches with baubles and other decorations; this will weigh down the branch and cause it to droop over time. Instead, spread out your decor between different branches so that each one has room for its own ornament (or two if necessary).

You can also add some weights at key points along the trunk if needed to balance out branches.

A close-up of a decorated Christmas tree

How often should I water my Christmas tree?

Sap at the cut of the tree’s trunk can turn into a solid mass if you don't keep up with watering – so make sure to keep your house guest well hydrated! If the sap is allowed to harden, the whole tree will start to look like a prune.

At the very least, your Christmas tree needs to be watered once a day. A good rule of thumb is to give it a litre of water for every inch of the trunk’s diameter.

Although you need to be diligent for the entirety of your tree’s stay at your home, the first week is the most important period.

There's no need for any special products – plain water is all you need! There's no reason to spray mist around your tree either; simply fill up the reservoir and let nature take its course.

How do I get rid of my Christmas tree?

Everything good must come to an end – even Christmas.

Whether you’re the type of person who removes any trace of the festive period after boxing day or the type who ekes out the decorations until the bitter end, eventually you’ll have to dispose of your tree.

Thankfully, real Christmas trees are recyclable.

If you want a relatively hands-off option, many local authorities and charities offer recycling schemes – you can find more information on recycling Christmas trees on the government’s website.

If you can't bear to part with your festive friend entirely, you can reuse that excess foliage. Simply wait until March when temperatures are high enough for the Christmas tree to become mulch.

A man and a woman helping a child saw a Christmas tree


So, there you have it. Not as difficult as you thought, right?

To properly care for a real tree, all you need is time to plan, a saw if you want to do the cutting yourself, and a Christmas tree stand that holds enough water.

However, we know that you’re busy. A live Christmas tree isn’t for everyone.

If you’ve read through our article and it still all sounds too much, you can go for an artificial Christmas tree.

The most important thing is that you and your family have a lovely – and relatively stress-free! – Christmas.

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