Secret to healthy Christmas trees revealed

PUYALLUP – As shoppers select Christmas trees, WSU plant pathologist and internationally recognized Christmas tree expert, Gary Chastagner, offers tips to keep the them vibrant through the holiday season.

The secret to keeping a Christmas tree fresh through the holiday season is to provide it with plenty of water, Chastagner said.
“Most people don’t realize how much water a tree can take up once it’s indoors,” he said. “As a general rule, for each inch of stem diameter the tree will need a quart of water per day. So the average four-inch diameter tree needs at least a gallon of water a day.”
Chastagner said keeping your holiday tree well hydrated is about more than aesthetics – it’s important to keeping the tree from drying out and becoming a potential fire hazard.
Chastagner also advises to skip commercial additives such as sugar, 7-Up and bleach that supposedly help the cut tree take up water. Research has found that adding these or other home remedies to the water provides no benefit, Chastagner said.
“Water alone is the single most important thing,” he said. “All that’s needed is a fresh cut that removes about a quarter inch of the base before putting it in the stand, and keeping the stand filled so that the water level never gets below the base of the tree.”
Additional tips from Chastagner
▪ When selecting a cut tree, tap the butt on the ground a couple times to see if it loses any of its fresh, green needles. Expect some dead brown needles to fall from the inside of the tree, but if a tree loses more than a few green needles, it’s already drying out and should be avoided. Chastagner suggests moving on to another tree lot if several trees fail this test.
▪ Once the tree is home, trim a quarter-inch thick disk off the butt (unless this was done before purchase) and put the tree in water immediately. This ensures the tree will be able to take up water.
▪ Always trim the butt with a cut perpendicular to the tree trunk. Cutting it at an angle or “whittling” the base of the tree to fit the stand seriously decreases the tree’s ability to take up water.
▪ Find a tree stand with adequate water-holding capacity for the tree. The stand should provide one quart of water for each inch of trunk diameter, or a gallon of water per day for a four-inch diameter trunk. Chastagner says the water capacity listed on a stand’s label or box can be misleading. “That’s the capacity of the reservoir when the stand is empty, and you need to allow for the amount of water that will be displaced when the tree trunk is put in the stand,” he said.
▪ Check the water level in the stand several times a day, especially in the first week the tree is displayed, and keep the reservoir topped off with fresh cold water.
▪ Display the tree away from heat sources such as heat vents, fireplaces and direct sunlight because they will speed up drying. Lowering the room temperature will slow the drying process and reduce water use.
Chastagner’s primary research emphasis is identifying and developing Christmas tree varieties that grow well in the Northwest, are disease and pest resistant, and have superior needle retention for the Northwest Christmas-tree industry. About one-third of the nearly 36 million Christmas trees harvested in the nation yearly are grown in western Washington and Oregon.