One of the most joyful things about the holiday season is, for many of us, getting and decorating the Christmas tree. There’s nothing quite like the beautiful sight and smell of a real tree in the middle of your living room. There’s also nothing quite like the annoyance of having to sweep up endless needles every day for weeks.
If this happens to you every year and you want to learn how to stop your Christmas tree from shedding needles, you’ve come to the right place.
We spoke to Christmas tree specialists who have been growing and selling trees for decades, so they know a thing or two about caring for your Christmas tree.
How to stop your Christmas tree from shedding needles
First, though, a quick note about Christmas tree varieties. There is no such thing as a non-shed tree. All Christmas tree varieties will eventually begin to shed needles. Once your tree has begun shedding needles, there’s not a lot you can do about it. So, focus on these expert-recommended preventative measures instead.
1. Choose a tree that’s as fresh as possible
If you only take away one tip from this article, let it be this one. ’It’s important to choose as fresh a tree as possible’, advises Lisa Tadewaldt, an ISA-certified arborist and co-founder of Urban Forest Pro, a tree care company based in Portland, Oregon. How to tell that a tree is fresh? One telltale sign is its weight: ‘The heavier the tree the fresher it is’, says Lisa. So, go ahead and pick up several trees when choosing yours.
Another good way to test the freshness of a tree is to run your fingers along a branch, gently but firmly, from the base to the tip. Donna Letier, founder and CEO of Gardenuity, tells us that a fresh tree has ‘vibrant, green needles that are flexible and do not easily fall off to the touch.’ One or two needles in your hand are okay; a whole bunch of them indicates a tree that’s already dying.
Finally, choose a tree that smells good. A tree that has the characteristic pine smell still has sap running through it; one that no longer smells of anything is dead before you even put it up in your house.
Lisa Tadewaldt is the co-founder of Urban Forest Pro, a tree care company based in Portland, Oregon, U.S., and an ISA-certified arborist. Lisa has been in the tree care business for over 20 years and has established a great reputation as a tree care expert within the industry.
2. Make a fresh cut at the bottom of the trunk
Some vendors will do this for you before you bring your tree home, and, of course, this step doesn’t apply if you cut down your own tree at a tree farm. However, if you’re buying a tree that’s been pre-cut, you will need to make a fresh cut at the bottom of the trunk before you put it in water. Lisa Tadewaldt explains that making a fresh cut to the trunk ‘will allow better water uptake for the tree which will help to keep it hydrated.’
Fresh trees will attempt to heal the cut, so a tree that’s been out for sale even for a day or two will need a fresh cut. We recommend using a folding pruning saw (which can be bought on Amazon) for this purpose, as it’s safer and easier to use than an axe.
3. Position your tree away from heat sources
Once you’ve seen a Christmas tree in its natural habitat, you will know that it doesn’t like artificial heat. And while a tree that has its roots deep in cool ground can withstand some summer heat, it’s a very different scenario when your tree is relying on a bucket of water to keep it cool and hydrated. So, it’s best to keep your tree away from heat sources.
Lisa confirms that it is ‘helpful to position your tree away from heat sources like radiators or fireplaces, as excessive heat can dry a Christmas tree out faster.' Needless to say, positioning your tree next to an open fireplace is also not recommended as doing this creates a fire hazard.
It is understandable that you want your tree in the living room or lounge, which also will be one of the warmest rooms in the house during the holiday season. But you can help your tree stay fresher longer by switching off the heating in the room it’s in when you’re not using it. It’s a win-win: you will reduce your energy consumption, which will be higher than usual at this time of year.
4. Water your Christmas tree every day
Greg Walsh, the owner of Greg's Trees, has a golden rule for keeping your tree hydrated: 'Make sure the water in the stand is always full.' Christmas trees, especially when they’re first brought into a house, are very thirsty and will take up a lot of water. So, commit to a regular watering schedule – ideally, you should be checking the water level every morning and every evening for the first week, and once a day thereafter. Don’t let the stand ever go empty as this will cause your tree to start dying prematurely.
Greg Walsh has been in the tree business for over 30 years. Starting with a few friends, they brought their passion and love of Christmas to deliver beautiful Christmas trees to NYC.
5. Consider adding a liquid feed or preservative
Greg Walsh tells us that 'another good way to prevent shedding is to use tree preserve with the water. We sell a polymer tree preserve that creates a gel around the trunk, keeping it moist all the time.' Note that the idea behind this method is enhancing hydration not pickling your tree in bleach or lemon juice, or whatever else you were advised to mix in with the tree water.
In fact, a report from Michigan State University Extension very clearly advises against adding anything to the water. 'Do not add sugar, aspirin, bleach or floral preservatives. Research has shown plain tap water is all that is needed to keep your tree fresh', cautions the report.
You can try adding Christmas tree plant food as it’s been specifically formulated for their nutritional needs. Just be aware that it will only work so long as your tree is taking up water, so add it in straight away.
Why is my Christmas tree shedding so many needles?
The eventual needle drop is inevitable, but if your tree seemed fresh when you picked it and now is shedding a lot of needles, it’s likely been placed in a room that’s too dry and hot. Combine this with insufficient watering, and your tree will begin dying too soon. Greg Wash advises that 'if you notice your tree is beginning to shed more than usual, check the water to see if it's too low and check if you put it next to a heat source that you could move it away from.'
Do ice cubes help keep my tree cool?
Not really. Given that your tree will be standing in a warm room, the ice cubes will melt fast, so they won’t make much of a difference. Ice cubes can be a useful way to enhance hydration for potted Christmas trees, though. You can place them on top of the soil. With a cut tree in a stand, just focus on keeping the tree well-watered with cold water from the tap.
According to the MSU report, a Christmas tree needs up to three quarts of water per day. Bear this in mind when choosing your tree stand and when topping up with water.
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Anna K. Cottrell is now a freelance writer, having previously been a Content Editor for Future's homes titles. She writes about interior design, property, and gardening. On H&G, she specialized in writing about property – buying, selling, renting – sustainability and eco issues.
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