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Expert Tips to Keep your Christmas Tree Fresh

Expert tips to keep your Christmas tree fresh well into the new year.

There's nothing like a real, live Christmas tree.

The look, the feel, the scent... things you just can't get when you have an artificial tree.

But with real trees also come fallen needles and a mess when it comes time to drag the tree outside after the holiday is over.

Traditionally, we like to get our Christmas tree the Saturday after Thanksgiving to be able to enjoy the twinkling lights and pretty ornaments for as long as possible. 

And since moving to Maine where, honestly, it looks like Christmas for nearly half the year, we have gotten into the habit of leaving our tree up well into the new year.

The warm glow of the lights helps to take the chill out of the long, cold, winter evenings.

So how to ensure that our Christmas tree stays fresh all season long?

Well, I recently had the good fortune of chatting with Mac McCullen, the owner of Piper Mountain Christmas Tree Farm, where we get our Christmas tree each year. 

He shared some tips in addition to a few I've learned over the years. 

These tips apply whether you, too, cut down your own tree - at a tree farm or out in the woods - or choose an already-cut tree from a local tree lot.

Expert Tips to Keep your Christmas Tree Fresh

1. Buy your tree as close to the source as possible. 

Just think how long it takes for a tree to be cut down, then trucked to that empty lot where it will sit until you buy it. 

Try Googling to find a tree farm that's driving distance instead, if you don't know of a local farm that sells Christmas trees. 

Trust me, making a day trip of picking out your tree, cutting it down, then enjoying cider or cocoa and some warm homemade donuts before heading home with your fresh-cut tree is worth the trip

If you can't find a local or semi-localish farm and can't cut down a tree on your own property, then the tree lot it is.

(Note: Not surprisingly, trees in the woods don't exactly look like "Christmas trees", they need to be carefully pruned and trimmed to achieve the perfect tree shape - although I do cut down a little tree for our chicken run from the woods each winter. The chickens aren't too picky about what it looks like!)

2. Choose the freshest tree from the selection.

If you find yourself in a tree lot, ask the vendor where the trees came from and approximately when they were cut down. 

Ask if any of the trees arrived more recently than others - then choose one from that batch.

If you go to a tree farm, they usually have some trees pre-cut to save you the trouble of cutting your own down. 

Even if those trees were cut down in the last few days, grab a saw and cut your own down. 

Even a matter of hours without water can start to age a tree.

So the absolute freshest-cut tree you can find is best.

3. Shake the branches.

Once you've chosen what you think will be your perfect tree, inspect the needles to be sure they are bright green and don't appear to have started drying out. 

Give the branches a good shake to see how many needles fall off. 

A fresh tree shouldn't lose many - if any - needles.

And obviously you want to choose a tree with no brown or dried boughs.

4. Cut the bottom off.

Regardless of where you buy your tree and when you cut it down (unless you're within an hour or two of home), you'll want to make a fresh, new cut across the base of the tree just before you put it into the base and fill it with water.

Evergreens are soft wood, so it's easily cut using a hand saw or chain saw, or you can ask the tree farm or vendor to cut it for you. Just half an inch or so is enough.

When you get home, set up your tree right away to give the tree an immediate drink of water and the illusion that it's still in the ground.

If you can't put up your tree in the house immediately, it's perfectly fine to set it in a bucket of water outside or in the garage or barn. 

The main thing is to keep the base submerged so it doesn't start to dry out.

5. Keep your tree cool.

Evergreen trees, which include both pine and fir, grow best in cold climates, so they naturally prefer cool temperatures. 

The warmer the environment and drier the air in your home, the faster your tree will dry out. 

If you can, set the tree in a corner with no windows, out of the direct sunlight, and away from baseboard heat and any wood stove or fireplace (this is good advice also to reduce the risk of fire!)

Consider periodically misting your tree branches lightly with water if the air in your home is extremely dry, as ours tends to be in the winter.

And be sure to turn off the lights when you're not home or sleeping. Besides being safer, some lights actually produce a bit of heat that will dry out your tree.

6. Keep your tree hydrated.

Trees, like all plants, need water. When you first set up your tree, especially if it's been sitting in a tree lot, it will likely be thirsty, so check the base several times a day and top it off as the tree drinks. 

You don't want the base to ever be allowed dry out or the water to be depleted below the base of the tree. 

This will allow sap to form across the cut base and prevent the tree from taking in water.

Note: you don't need to add sugar or any type of commercial water additive. Plain, fresh water is all that's needed.

Using these simple tips, your Christmas tree should stay fresh well into the new year.  

A fresh tree should easily last 5-6 weeks indoors with proper care.

After the Holiday

When you're ready to take your tree down and have removed the lights, ornaments, garlands and other decoration, consider giving the tree a second life.

Just be sure it hasn't been treated with any pesticides or other chemicals.

For Livestock

If you raise goats or chickens, either will enjoy the tree. 

Goats and chickens will both eat the needles, while our chickens enjoy perching on the tree that I lay in the run for them, and our ducks love to nap under the boughs.

Don't raise animals of your own? 

Try to find a local farm that might appreciate your tree donation for their animals.

As Mulch

The branches can be cut and used as mulch for your garden beds, shrubs or bushes. 

Some plants such as azaleas, blueberries, daffodils, hydrangeas, and rhododendrons particularly like a more acidic soil and will benefit from pine branches laid around their base.

The tree trunk can be chopped up or put through a wood chipper to make mulch for your garden or compost pile. 

For Crafts

Or if you're crafty, the trunk can be sliced into thin rounds to use as rustic coasters.

If nothing else, many municipalities offer recycle programs or bulk pickup at the curb to properly dispose of your tree.

Watch the Holiday Episode of Welcome to my Farm as I get tree advice from Mac McCullen, the owner of Piper Mountain Christmas Tree Farm right here in Maine.

Welcome to my Farm Christmas Episode

Lusting over all the fresh Maine Christmas trees I had to choose from? 

Piper Mountain Christmas Tree Farm ships live trees and handmade wreaths nationwide! 

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