There are a lot of benefits to buying a real tree for your Christmas decorating needs. Real trees smell wonderful, like the holidays, with a scent that's difficult to replicate, no matter how many companies try. They also look beautiful, they feel super festive, and they're honestly just a lot of fun to pick out and take home. But there is a major downside to real trees as well: they require a lot of maintenance. You have to vacuum or sweep a lot because they shed and drop leaves, and that gets even worse if you let the tree get too dry. So how often should you water a Christmas tree?
Before you even get into that, though, you'll want to make sure you're picking a tree that isn't already dried out, because bringing it back to life could be really difficult, or even impossible. Tim O'Conner, executive director of the National Christmas Tree Association, a trade organization representing more than 700 farms, told Martha Stewart Living that if you get a tree that's already dry, it won't last long. He suggests testing the trees out by running the branch through your hand. If the needles fall off or if the branch seems brittle, it's too dry and shouldn't be purchased. Other signs of a dry tree include wrinkled bark, discolored needles, and a musty odor.
You also have to make sure you're setting up the tree correctly to keep it as fresh as possible. The trunk will need a fresh cut. Martha Stewart Living says, "Before placing your tree in water, use a saw to remove a half-inch thick disk of wood from the base of the trunk. Don’t cut the trunk into a V-shape or drill a hole into the base - despite what you may have heard, this will make it harder for your tree to absorb water, not easier." Once it's cut, put it in a bucket of water or a water-filled stand as soon as possible. And make sure that stand is large enough to hold one quart of water per inch of stem diameter so that you can ensure it's getting hydrated enough.
O'Conner says that you should be watering your tree daily, adding, "Especially during the first seven to ten days, which is when they take up the most water." Get into a habit of watering the tree every single morning so that you don't forget.
East River Nursery points out that the size of the tree makes a difference on how much water it needs. Smaller trees can be watered less frequently than larger and fuller trees, which need water to reach the tips of every branch. It can also depend on the species of the tree - the longer a tree's needles, the more water it needs. The climate and location of the tree also make a difference. If your house is warmer with less humidity, the tree will need more water, and if there's a vent or a draft near the tree, it can dry out faster and will also need more water. Putting the tree next to a fireplace may look pretty, but it dries the tree out faster, and puts you at a higher risk of a house fire.
For a standard size tree (the trunk diameter is in the five-inch range), leave at least five quarts of water in your stand each day. Of course, you can always add extra if you're nervous. The standard rule is to make sure the trunk is submerged in the water. Check it daily to make sure it's doing okay.
According to Rick Bates, from the Department of Horticulture at Penn State, you should never add additives to the water (like commercial tree preservatives, sugar, or molasses). You only need fresh, clean water. And remember: a dry tree is more likely to catch on fire. Bates says, "Displaying trees in water with proper care is much more effective in reducing fire hazards than spraying trees with flame retardants. Some flame retardants can damage needles and actually increase the rate of moisture loss from trees." Keep it hydrated on a regular basis to stay safe!