Christmas Tree Needles Dropping? Why and What to Do [11 Tips]

With 26 million real Christmas trees being purchased in the US each year [1], the high demand for these evergreens pushes farmers and distributors to harvest and transport the trees as early as October. By Christmas, the trees are most likely to dry up and lose a lot of needles.

Chopped Christmas trees shed off their needles as they dry, exacerbated by transportation stress and sudden changes in temperatures. To prevent needle loss, choose a freshly-harvested tree and water it adequately. Some species, such as the Fraser Fir, have better needle retention than others.

If you are wondering how to prevent a mess of needles all over the floor on Christmas, we are here to discuss the Why’s and How’s in keeping your Christmas tree fresh and healthy.

How To Keep Christmas Tree From Losing Needles

A Christmas tree’s ability to retain its needles is directly tied to how much water it is receiving and how long ago it was chopped down.

On average, a well-watered and properly cared-for Christmas tree can maintain the shape and color of its needles for up to three weeks after being displayed and decorated.

Why Do Christmas Tree Needles Fall Off?

Christmas trees that have been chopped down slowly consume their water and nutrient reservoir inside their trunk. As the trees lose moisture, they shed off their needles to protect themselves and extend their life.

Other reasons for Christmas trees losing their needles include 1) stress from being transported, 2) exposure to Winter frost if the trees are not cold-hardened by the growers [2], and 3) temperature shock when moved from the outdoors into a warm environment.

On-going studies on Christmas trees have found that Ethylene, the same hormone which causes fruits to ripen, is responsible for signaling conifers to drop their needles. Chopped Christmas trees lose all of their needles 40 days after being cut down [3].

Researchers are doing tests that can inhibit Ethylene production to prolong needle retention. They are also looking at which species of trees are able to keep their needles longer, which ones are resistant to pests, etc. so that they can attempt to recreate these genetically superior traits in future tree production [4].

Prevent Your Christmas Tree Needles From Falling Off [11 Tips]

Eleven tips to prevent needle loss in Christmas tree are: 1) choose a recently-harvested tree; 2) do a freshness test; 3) check plant health; 4) secure the tree; 5) make a fresh cut; 6) water frequently; 7) keep the tree away from sources of heat; 8) spray needles with antitranspirants; 9) use a humidifier; 10) use white LED lights; and 11) do not keep the tree in the dark.

Follow these tips to keep as many needles as possible attached to your tree throughout the holidays:

Choose a recently-harvested tree. To make sure that your tree is fresh, it is recommended that you choose a farm that allows you to pick or cut down your own tree. If that’s not possible, buy from a nearby local grower to make sure that the trees did not suffer the stress of being shipped from far away places. Another option is to buy a potted tree which is less likely to shed leaves since its root ball is still intact, and can easily be replanted after the holidays!

Do a freshness test. Take a branch and run your fingers from the innermost part, gently pulling outwards towards the tip. Fresh trees shouldn’t lose a lot of green needles, but it is normal for the inner brown needles to drop. You can also ask your retailer to have the tree shaken or blown to remove bugs and to make sure that the needles are firmly attached to the branches.

Check plant health. Fresh trees should have a natural waxy, green look and a fragrant smell. Watch out for droopy branches, yellowing needles, and some peeling bark.

Secure the tree. On the way home, wrap the tree in fabric to keep the wind from drying the needles. Tie up the tree to minimize stress from being shaken.

Make a fresh cut. When you arrive home, saw off 1 inch from the butt of the trunk to open up the tree’s vessels that will absorb water. Wash off the stump to remove sap and bacteria.

Water frequently. After cutting, immediately submerge the tree in a bucket of water. On average, freshly-cut Christmas trees consume 1 gallon of water per day. Check your stand daily and make sure the water level is always at least 3 inches above the base.

Keep the tree away from sources of heat. Vents, fireplaces, televisions, and lights can dry out the tree faster. Choose a display location away from these appliances.

Spray the needles with antitranspirants. You can buy antitranspirant products such as the one below which are specifically formulated to keep the moisture from being evaporated through the tree’s leaves. Studies have also shown that hairspray is effective in prolonging the health of Christmas tree needles [5]. If you don’t want to use chemicals, you can go for an organic approach by spraying the needles with Pine oil diluted in water.

Use a humidifier. Since the leaves of chopped trees are still able to exchange gasses with the atmosphere and absorb moisture through their stomata, using a humidifier near the tree can make the leaves look fresher.

Use white LED lights. LED lights are recommended as ornaments because they don’t emit too much heat compared to other lighting products. Studies show that white-colored LED lights significantly prolonged the needle retention of Christmas trees, while blue light performed the worst among all the colors [6].

Do not keep your tree in the dark. Chopped trees continue to photosynthesize so they also need light. Keeping them in the dark will cause them to transpire and therefore consume their supply of carbon dioxide faster.

How to Keep a Christmas Tree from Shedding

Should I Use Additives When Watering My Christmas Tree?

Tests done on Christmas trees have shown that additives didn’t improve needle retention, and sometimes even caused the trees to fall apart [7]. Experts agree that water is the best nourishment for chopped Christmas trees.

In online forums and blogs, you would often find suggestions to add certain products in your Christmas tree’s water reservoir to keep it fresh for longer. These products include sugar, corn syrup, lemon, Sprite, Vodka, bleach, aspirin, and others.

There are claims that sugar will help the tree to maintain its cell structure and prevent needle loss. They further say that the acidity and carbon dioxide content of lemon will help reduce fungal and bacterial growth in the water [8].

However, these additives can function like salt which causes the tree to lose needles even faster. Clean water is the safest way to hydrate your Christmas tree.

Which Christmas Tree Species Stay Fresh The Longest?

Among Christmas tree species, Fir trees retain water and hold needles the best, followed by Pines. Despite being the most common trees in some countries like the UK, Spruces are known to dry out quickly and shed off their needles.

When choosing your Christmas tree, first you will have to consider the tree’s availability, price, and size. However, if you have a wide variety of species to choose from, you should pick a tree based on its ability to stay fresh and retain its leaves for a long time.

A healthy evergreen tree will have a shiny, glossy green coating, but the color and health of leaves will vary between species.

To help you choose the best tree, we compiled data from multiple sources to give you two tables comparing needle color, needle retention, and post-harvest quality of the most common Christmas tree species [9 -13].

How Long Do Chopped Christmas Trees Last?

Christmas trees can be displayed in a home for longer periods when they are submerged in water than when they are dry. Well-watered Christmas trees can retain their needles for up to 6 weeks after being put up, while dry Christmas trees can shed needles as early as 7 days [14].

SpeciesHow Long Christmas Tree Lasts When Displayed DryHow Long Christmas Tree Lasts When Watered
Arizona Corkbark FirCan last 10 days- 3 weeksCan last 4-6 weeks
Arizona CypressCan last 7 days- 3 weeksCan last 10 days- 4 weeks
Atlantic White CedarCan last 7-10 daysCan last 7 days- 3 weeks
Balsam FirCan last 10 days- 3 weeksCan last 3-6 weeks
California Red FirCan last 3-4 weeksCan last 4-6 weeks
Canaan FirCan last 10 days- 3 weeksCan last 3-6 weeks
Colorado Blue SpruceCan last 10 days- 3 weeksCan last 3-6 weeks
Concolor FirCan last 7 days- 4 weeksCan last 7 days- 6 weeks
Douglas-Fir (Coastal)Can last 7 days- 3 weeksCan last 3-4 weeks
Douglas-Fir (Intermountain)Can last 10 days- 4 weeksCan last 3-6 weeks
Eastern Red CedarCan last 7-10 daysCan last 10 days- 3 weeks
Eastern White PineCan last 3-4 weeksCan last 3-6 weeks
European Silver FirCan last 7-10 daysCan last 3-6 weeks
Fraser FirCan last 3- 4 weeksCan last 4-6 weeks
Grand FirCan last 7-10 daysCan last 3-6 weeks
Greek FirCan last 7-10 daysCan last 3-6 weeks
Korean FirCan last 3- 4 weeksCan last 3-6 weeks
Leyland CypressCan last 10 days- 3 weeksCan last 3-6 weeks
Monterey PineCan last 10 days- 3 weeksCan last 3-4 weeks
Noble FirCan last 3-4 weeksCan last 4-6 weeks
Nordmann FirCan last 7 days- 4 weeksCan last 4-6 weeks
Norway SpruceCan last 7-10 daysCan last 3-4 weeks
Pacific Silver FirCan last 10 days- 3 weeksCan last 3-6 weeks
Scotch PineCan last 10 days- 4 weeksCan last 3-4 weeks
Shasta FirCan last 7 days- 3 weeksCan last 10 days- 4 weeks
Turkish FirCan last 7 days- 4 weeksCan last 4-6 weeks
Veitch FirCan last 3-4 weeksCan last 4-6 weeks
Virginia PineCan last 10 days- 3 weeksCan last 10 days- 3 weeks
Western White PineCan last 3-4 weeksCan last 3-6 weeks
White SpruceCan last 7-10 daysCan last 3-4 weeks

Needle Color and Needle Retention of Christmas Trees

Below you can find our table summarizing the common species of Christmas trees, their natural needle color, and their ability to retain their leaves.

SpeciesNeedle ColorNeedle Retention
Silver FirDark green above with two white lines belowVery good on cut trees
Balsam FirDark green on top with two silver lines belowVery good on cut trees
Fraser FirBlue-green with silvery undersidesExcellent needle retention
Nordmann/ Caucasian FirDark green above with two silver lines belowVery good on cut trees, better lasting quality than Norway Spruce
Noble FirBright grayish-blue or green on both sidesOverall very good needle retention
Concolor/ White FirSilvery blue-greenGood needle retention, needles have tendency to drop indoors
Subalpine/ Corkbark FirBlueExcellent needle retention
Canaan FirRich greenGood needle retention
Korean FirGreen with silvery undersidesExcellent needle retention
Douglas FirDark blue to yellow greenFairly good on cut trees when foliage dries, better than Spruces but not as good as true Firs
Norway SpruceRich greenPoor on cut trees when foliage dries
Black Hills/ White SpruceBlue-greenPoor on cut trees when foliage dries, has better needle retention compared to other Spruces
Serbian SpruceRich green above and frosted white belowPoor on cut trees when foliage dries
Colorado/ Blue SpruceLight blue or grayGood needle retention but loses needles quickly in a warm room
Sitka SpruceGreen above and bluish white belowGood needle retention
Eastern White PineBlue-greenHolds needles well but wilts noticeably
Stone PineGrayish-blue in juvenile trees, bright green in adultsPoor on cut trees when foliage dries
Scots/ Scotch PineYellow-green or Grayish-blue/greenExcellent needle retention even when dry
Virginia PineYellow-greenExcellent needle retention 
Sand PineDark greenPoor on cut trees when foliage dries
Austrian/ Black PineDark greenGood needle retention
Ponderosa PineBright greenPoor on cut trees when foliage dries
Deodar CedarWaxy blue to blue-greenExcellent only for two weeks, very poor when foliage dries
Leyland CypressDark green-grayLoses needles quickly in a warm room
Arizona CypressLight green to dark purplish/bluish greenGood needle retention
Eastern Red CedarGreen and blue-green to yellow-greenDries out rapidly and loses foliage when cut 
Giant SequoiaGreenGood foliage retention
Needle Color on Christmas Tree

How To Clean Up Christmas Tree Needles

Vacuuming Christmas tree needles seems the fastest way to clean up after the holidays, but it can be a fire hazard if the vacuum gets too hot and burns up the needles inside. Instead, you can use a rubber broom to sweep and collect the needles.

Lint rollers or rubber brushes can be used to remove pine needles that get stuck on the carpet.

When taking down the tree, it helps to lay a blanket on the floor to catch falling needles. Some people use a Christmas tree removal bag which is a huge plastic sheet that covers the entire tree while you are dismounting it.

The Cleanest and Easiest Way to remove your Christmas Tree 🎄 #shorts

Takeaways

  1. Christmas trees shed off their needles when they dry up and when they suffer from transportation stress or temperature changes.
  2. To keep a chopped Christmas tree from losing its needles, the tree must be purchased fresh from the beginning and kept well-watered at all times.
  3. Additives may have harmful effects on trees. Water is the best and safest nourishment.
  4. Firs have the best needle retention and post-harvest quality among all species, followed by Pines. Spruces don’t hold needles well after being cut.

Sources

[1] https://www.pickyourownchristmastree.org/christmas_tree_statistics.php

[2] https://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/administrative_report_or_publications/bk128f91d?locale=en

[3] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-to-keep-the-needles-on-your-christmas-tree-40792019/

[4] https://cnr.ncsu.edu/news/2019/01/o-christmas-tree-how-lovely-are-thy-branches-that-retain-needles/

[5] https://scihub.yncjkj.com/10.1071/BT14343

[6] https://www.npr.org/2010/12/10/131967516/Chemistry-Keeps-Christmas-Trees-Alive-For-Longer

[7] https://www.nbcnews.com/businessmain/neither-sprite-nor-viagra-boost-drooping-christmas-trees-2d11765620

[8] https://www.somersetlive.co.uk/news/somerset-news/how-save-droopy-christmas-tree-925141

[9] https://studylib.net/doc/12948418/selection-andamp%3B-care-of-christmas-trees-for-the-home

[10] https://realchristmastrees.org/all-about-trees/tree-characteristics/

[11] https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/choosing_the_right_christmas_tree#korean

[12] https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1857&context=extensionhist

[13] https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/selecting-a-christmas-tree/

[14] http://economia-usb.unibas.it/contents/instance7_remap/files/document/5029165AH-66-Commercial.pdf#page=660

yourindoorherbs is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. This site also participates in other affiliate programs and is compensated for referring traffic and business to these companies.

Similar Posts