How to Care for Live Christmas Tree

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Thanksgiving weekend is the busiest weekend for live Christmas tree sales, and the National Fire Protection Association has some tips for ways to safely display a live tree in your home and minimize fire dangers.

According to the NFPA, Christmas trees are not as likely to be the first item ignited in a residential fire as other common household items, including newspapers and magazines, boxes or bags and curtains and drapes. But fires involving trees are especially dangerous, authorities say.

  • Measure your space. Be sure you know what size (height and width) you need before heading to the lot. Measure the ceiling height in the room where the tree will be displayed. The trees in the field look small, and it is easy to overbuy.
  • Ask questions about the trees. Ask the retailer when he/she gets the trees: are they delivered once at the beginning of the season, or several shipments during the season? Often, a tree obtained soon after its arrival on the retail lot will be very fresh because it was recently cut.
  • Do a branch/needle test for freshness. Run a branch through your enclosed hand – the needles should not come off easily. Bend the outer branches – they should be pliable. If they are brittle and snap easily, the tree is too dry.
  • Look for other indicators of dryness or deterioration. Indicators might include: excessive needle loss, discolored foliage, musty odor, needle pliability, and wrinkled bark. If none of the trees on the lot look fresh, go to another lot.
  • Displaying trees in water in a traditional reservoir type stand is the most efficient way of maintaining freshness and minimizing needle loss problems.
  • To display the trees indoors, use a stand with an adequate water holding capacity for the tree. As a general rule, stands should provide 1 quart of water per inch of stem diameter. Devices are available that help maintain a constant water level in the stand.
  • Use a stand that fits your tree. Avoid whittling the sides of the trunk down to fit a stand. The outer layers of wood are the most efficient in taking up water and should not be removed.
  • Make a fresh cut to remove about a half-inch thick disk of wood from the base of the trunk before putting the tree in the stand. Make the cut perpendicular to the stem axis. Drilling a hole in the base of the trunk does not improve water uptake. Once home, place the tree in water as soon as possible. Most species can go 6 to 8 hours after cutting the trunk and still take up water.

Other tree tips to keep your home safe:

  • Check the stand daily to make sure that the level of water does not go below the base of the tree.
  • Keep trees at least three feet away from major sources of heat (fireplaces, heaters, heat vents, direct sunlight). Lowering the room temperature will slow the drying process.
  • Use lights that produce low heat, such as miniature or LED lights, to reduce drying of the tree.
  • Always inspect light sets before placing them on the tree. If worn, replace with a new set.
  • Do not overload electrical circuits.
  • Always turn off the tree lights when leaving the house or when going to bed.
  • Monitor the tree for freshness. After Christmas or if the tree is dry, remove it from the house.
  • Install and ensure smoke alarms work inside and outside each bedroom and sleeping area. Install alarms on every level of the home, including the basement.

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