Christmas Tree Water Intake: Why A Christmas Tree Is Not Drinking

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By Mary H. Dyer, Master Naturalist and Master Gardener

Fresh Christmas trees are a holiday tradition, loved for their beauty and fresh, outdoorsy fragrance. However, Christmas trees often take the blame for destructive fires that occur during the holiday season. The most effective way to prevent Christmas tree fires is to keep the tree well hydrated. With proper care, a tree should remain fresh for two to three weeks. This may sound easy, but it becomes a problem if your Christmas tree is not drinking water.

Causes for a Christmas Tree Not Taking Up Water

Generally, when Christmas trees have problems taking up water, it’s because we tend to add products to the tree itself or the water. Avoid spray-on fire retardants and other products advertised to keep your tree fresh. Similarly, bleach, vodka, aspirin, sugar, lime soda, copper pennies or vodka have little or no effect and some can actually slow water retention and increase moisture loss.

What works best? Plain old tap water. If you tend to be forgetful, keep a pitcher or watering can near the tree to remind you.

How to Get a Christmas Tree to Take Up Water

Cutting a thin sliver from the bottom of the trunk is key to keeping a tree fresh. Keep in mind that if the tree is freshly cut, you don’t need to cut the trunk. However, if the tree has been cut for longer than 12 hours before you put it in water, you must trim ¼ to ½ inch from the bottom of the trunk.

This is because the bottom of the trunk seals itself with sap after a few hours and can’t absorb water. Cut straight across and not at an angle; an angular cut makes it harder for the tree to take up water. It is also difficult to get a tree with an angular cut to stand upright. Also, don’t drill a hole in the trunk. It doesn’t help.

Next, a large stand is critical; a Christmas tree can drink up to one quart of water for each inch of stem diameter. The National Christmas Tree Association recommends a stand with a one-gallon capacity. Never trim the bark to accommodate a too-tight stand. The bark helps the tree take up water.

Christmas Tree Watering Tips

Start with a fresh Christmas tree. There’s no way to hydrate a dried up tree, even if you trim the bottom. If you aren’t sure about freshness, pull a branch slowly through your fingers. A few dry needles are no reason for concern, but look for a fresher tree if a large number of needles are loose or brittle.

If you aren’t ready to bring the Christmas tree indoors, place it in a bucket of cool water and store it in a cool, shady place. Storage should be limited to two days.

Don’t worry if your tree doesn’t absorb water for a few days; a freshly cut tree often won’t take up water immediately. Christmas tree water intake depends on various factors, including room temperature and the size of the tree.

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