Whether you chop down your Christmas tree at a U-cut farm, or just cruise into a lot and pick up a Douglas fir - there's one thing you need to remember once you get home. Add water.
Yup. It seems such an obvious no-brainer thing, but many a Christmas tree has suffered an untimely trip to the wood chipper due to dry conditions and a forgetful tree caretaker.
Another thing: 7UP won’t keep your tree alive longer. In fact, some research suggest homemade concoctions actually could lead to needle drop. In short, don’t use them. Instead, use plain ol’ water.
Here’s what else you should do to make sure your fresh tree lasts through the holiday before recycling it to a wood chipper:
SELECTION AND CARE TIPS
Freshness test: Check the tree carefully by touching, smelling and shaking it gently. Pass on trees that show excessive needle drop (other than some old interior needles), have discolored foliage, smell musty, have wrinkled bark on small branches, or have brittle needles that break off when touched.
What kind lasts the longest? Some of the best are noble fir, Fraser fir and Douglas fir. Grand fir do well in water stands but tend to dry faster if their bases dry out.
Cut the bottom: At home, cut 1/4-inch off the butt to reopen pores that might have sealed over and place the tree in a water stand.
Size of the water stand: A tree can use up to 1 quart of water a day for every inch of stem diameter. A stand that will hold a 4-inch diameter trunk should hold at least 1 gallon of water after the tree is placed in it.
Other factors affect water usage: The warmer the temperature and the lower the humidity in your home, the more water a tree will use. Trees with thick crowns will lose moisture faster than those with lighter crowns because there is more needle surface for evaporation.
When to add water: Trees generally use more water during the first week of display, so water levels should be checked daily to be certain the base is always covered with water. Properly watered trees can easily last two to three weeks or more.
Additives: The best needle retention occurs when tree stands contain water. Recent studies of commercial preservatives and various home recipes, including ones with 7UP, bleach and sugar, have demonstrated that they have little or no benefit to trees. In fact, some solutions caused heavy needle loss or increased water consumption.
Checking for freshness at home: Once the tree is decorated, check it for freshness every few days. Break off a few needles, and bend them sharply between your fingers. Needles that are still fresh will snap or break crisply like a fresh carrot when bent.
If they do not break: If they don’t break, but bend like a limp dried-out carrot, the tree might no longer be taking up water. It should be carefully watched and possibly removed after a few more days.
Fir needles that have dried can still look green. If a tree has become extremely dry, needles will fade, become stiff and brittle, begin to shrivel up and drop. Such trees should be removed within a few days.
Reducing the needle mess: Many tree farms and retail lots mechanically shake the trees to dislodge loose needles. Once home, a leaf blower can also be used to remove needles and loose debris. When moving a tree in and out of a room, place it on a sheet or tarp to collect any needles that might drop.
Cost: Prices vary by tree lot, but generally prices range from $20-$30 for Douglas fir trees; and $45-$60 for Noble firs.
Get to know popular types
Not sure which kind of tree to get? Here is a quick glance at the different kinds of Christmas trees that many U-cut South Sound farms offer for sale.
1. Douglas fir This is the most common species. It has a medium to good shelf life and a pleasant fragrance. Because of the bushy crowns, sheared Douglas fir trees do not lend themselves to hold heavy decorations. A relatively problem-free tree to grow, it takes five to seven years to reach 6- to 7-feet in height.
2. Noble fir Nobles grow in a more open pattern and have luxurious green needles, a long shelf life and a nice fragrance. Long considered the Cadillac of trees, their stout branches can support heavy ornaments. It usually is the most expensive tree. It takes eight to 10 years to become salable and is more difficult to grow than other species.
3. Grand fir This is the most fragrant of the native species grown for Christmas trees. It is sheared like a Douglas fir. Some choose-and-cut farms grow them with more open crowns. It is popular as a flocked tree because of its flat needles. Grand fir trees require eight to nine years to grow and have a medium shelf life.
4. Fraser fir This is one of my favorites because of its open crown. It is available at a limited number of tree lots and choose-and-cut farms. The strong branches will hold heavier ornaments. The needles have a pleasant fragrance. It has a long shelf life. Frasers are difficult to grow because of various insect pests. They require eight to 10 years to reach Christmas tree size.
5. Colorado, Norway spruce These sharp-needled trees are generally available only at choose-and-cut farms. They are sheared and will hold heavy decorations. Spruces require eight to nine years to mature and have a medium shelf life.
6. Other kinds A few Turkish and Nordman firs are slowly being introduced to the Northwest. These have excellent shelf lives, and their stiff branches will support heavy ornaments. They can take 10 or more years to grow.
Ames Christmas Trees, 4115 Baker Ames Road N.E., Olympia. 8 a.m.-dusk daily through Dec. 24. Trees: Douglas, Grand and Noble firs. 360-357-3155.
Black Lake Trees U-Cut, corner of 62nd and Delphi Road, Olympia. Noon-dusk Fridays through Mondays through Dec. 24. Trees: Norway Spruce, Nobles, Grands, Fraser and Douglas firs. Saws and carts provided. Noble boughs, green cuttings and tree stands are also available. 360-866-4125.
Brewer’s U-Cut Christmas Trees, 2382 West Deegan Road, Shelton. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily through through Dec. 23. Trees: Noble, Grand, Douglas, Fraser, Nordman, Scotch and White pine, Spruce, and Balsam. Fresh-cut trees, wreaths and garlands are also available. Lots of friendly farm critters, hot cocoa and coffee. Indoor pony rides for the kids on the first and second weekend in December. 360-426-4936 or www.brewerschristmastrees.com.
CC U-Cut Nobles, 5434 51st Ave. N.W., Olympia. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays, through Dec. 23. 360-866-6941.
Christmas Valley Tree Farm, one mile west of Rochester on Highway 12. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily through Dec. 24. Selling Nobles, Frasier, Blue Spruce, Shasta, Cork Bark Fir, Douglas, Grand, Pine and Nordman. Wreaths, greens and holly available. 360-273-6196.
Chuck and Jen’s U-Cut, 9209 Lundeen Road, Centralia. 9 a.m.-dusk Fridays-Sundays through Dec. 23. Saws and help loading your tree supplied. Hot cider and chocolate for the kids. 360-879-8333.
Clyde ‘n Dales’s Holiday Trees and Gifts, 10712 Tracie Lane S.W., Olympia. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Fridays-Sundays through Dec. 20. Holiday Gift Shoppe; live entertainment on Dec. 5 and 12; Santa visits from 1 to 3 p.m. Sundays; free Clydesdale trolley rides. 360-352-TREE or www.olympiacarriage.com.
Eaton Creek Tree Farm, 10029 Yelm Highway S.E., Olympia. Open daily 8 a.m. to dusk through Dec. 24. Trees: Douglas, Grand and Noble firs. 360-259-9565.
Gibbons Nobles, 9212 Delphi Road S.W., Olympia. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Fridays-Sundays through Dec. 20. Saws, knee pads and help is available for cutting and hauling your U-cut Noble. Free hot apple cider and homemade cookies. 360-352-7569.
Hunter’s Christmas Tree Farm, 7401 Yelm Highway S.E., Olympia. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m.-6 p.m. weekends through Dec. 23. Trees: Noble, Douglas, Fraser and Grand firs. Visit the Friendly Beasts Animal Pen and Christmas Shop. 360-456-0466 or see www.hunterchristmastrees.com.
Jensen’s U-Cut Christmas Trees, 2840 184th Ave. S.E., near Tenino. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Fridays through Sundays through Dec. 24. Trees: Douglas, Noble and Grand firs. 360-264-4967 or 360-359-1970.
Jolly’s U-Cut, 15312 Tilley Road S., Tenino, two miles past Maytown Road. Open weekends (weekdays by appointment) from 9 a.m. to dusk through Dec. 20. Trees: Noble, Douglas and Grand firs. 360-264-5200.
Mudgee Tree Farm, 8440 Ayer St. S.E., Olympia. 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends Dec. 5-20. Selling U-cut and fresh cut Nobles. 360-923-5358.
Pleasant Glade Tree Farm, 4039 26th Ave. N.E., Olympia. 9 a.m.-dusk until sold out. Trees: U-cut and fresh cut Colorado Blue Spruce, Nobles, Grands and Douglas firs. Noble wreaths are available. Free Christmas tree baling. 360-491-6826 or 360-481-1600.
Schilter Family Farm, 141 Nisqually Cut-off Road, Olympia. 10 a.m. to dusk daily through Dec. 21. Trees: Noble, Grand, Fraser and Douglas. Precut trees, wreathes, cedar garlands, centerpieces, stands and holiday gifts are also available. 360-459-4023 or www.schilterfamilyfarm.com.
Sprouffske Tree Farm, 14020 Finian Road S.E., Rainier. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily through Dec. 24. Wreaths and swags available. Free tree baling, hot cocoa, candy canes, hot tea and coffee. Selling Noble, Grand and Douglas firs. 360-446-2212 or www.sprouffsketrees.com.
Winkelworld, 3619 36th Ave. N.W., off Cooper Point Road, Olympia. 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Fridays-Sundays through Dec. 20. Noble firs – you select and they cut. Free candy canes, cookies, cider, coffee and cocoa. 360-866-2009.