With 26 million real Christmas trees being purchased in the US each year , 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.
Table of Contents
- 1 How To Keep Christmas Tree From Losing Needles
- 2 Should I Use Additives When Watering My Christmas Tree?
- 3 Which Christmas Tree Species Stay Fresh The Longest?
- 4 How To Clean Up Christmas Tree Needles
- 5 Takeaways
- 6 Sources
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.
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 , 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 .
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 .
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 . 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 .
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.
Tests done on Christmas trees have shown that additives didn’t improve needle retention, and sometimes even caused the trees to fall apart . 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 .
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.
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].
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 .
|Species||How Long Christmas Tree Lasts When Displayed Dry||How Long Christmas Tree Lasts When Watered|
|Arizona Corkbark Fir||Can last 10 days- 3 weeks||Can last 4-6 weeks|
|Arizona Cypress||Can last 7 days- 3 weeks||Can last 10 days- 4 weeks|
|Atlantic White Cedar||Can last 7-10 days||Can last 7 days- 3 weeks|
|Balsam Fir||Can last 10 days- 3 weeks||Can last 3-6 weeks|
|California Red Fir||Can last 3-4 weeks||Can last 4-6 weeks|
|Canaan Fir||Can last 10 days- 3 weeks||Can last 3-6 weeks|
|Colorado Blue Spruce||Can last 10 days- 3 weeks||Can last 3-6 weeks|
|Concolor Fir||Can last 7 days- 4 weeks||Can last 7 days- 6 weeks|
|Douglas-Fir (Coastal)||Can last 7 days- 3 weeks||Can last 3-4 weeks|
|Douglas-Fir (Intermountain)||Can last 10 days- 4 weeks||Can last 3-6 weeks|
|Eastern Red Cedar||Can last 7-10 days||Can last 10 days- 3 weeks|
|Eastern White Pine||Can last 3-4 weeks||Can last 3-6 weeks|
|European Silver Fir||Can last 7-10 days||Can last 3-6 weeks|
|Fraser Fir||Can last 3- 4 weeks||Can last 4-6 weeks|
|Grand Fir||Can last 7-10 days||Can last 3-6 weeks|
|Greek Fir||Can last 7-10 days||Can last 3-6 weeks|
|Korean Fir||Can last 3- 4 weeks||Can last 3-6 weeks|
|Leyland Cypress||Can last 10 days- 3 weeks||Can last 3-6 weeks|
|Monterey Pine||Can last 10 days- 3 weeks||Can last 3-4 weeks|
|Noble Fir||Can last 3-4 weeks||Can last 4-6 weeks|
|Nordmann Fir||Can last 7 days- 4 weeks||Can last 4-6 weeks|
|Norway Spruce||Can last 7-10 days||Can last 3-4 weeks|
|Pacific Silver Fir||Can last 10 days- 3 weeks||Can last 3-6 weeks|
|Scotch Pine||Can last 10 days- 4 weeks||Can last 3-4 weeks|
|Shasta Fir||Can last 7 days- 3 weeks||Can last 10 days- 4 weeks|
|Turkish Fir||Can last 7 days- 4 weeks||Can last 4-6 weeks|
|Veitch Fir||Can last 3-4 weeks||Can last 4-6 weeks|
|Virginia Pine||Can last 10 days- 3 weeks||Can last 10 days- 3 weeks|
|Western White Pine||Can last 3-4 weeks||Can last 3-6 weeks|
|White Spruce||Can last 7-10 days||Can 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.
|Species||Needle Color||Needle Retention|
|Silver Fir||Dark green above with two white lines below||Very good on cut trees|
|Balsam Fir||Dark green on top with two silver lines below||Very good on cut trees|
|Fraser Fir||Blue-green with silvery undersides||Excellent needle retention|
|Nordmann/ Caucasian Fir||Dark green above with two silver lines below||Very good on cut trees, better lasting quality than Norway Spruce|
|Noble Fir||Bright grayish-blue or green on both sides||Overall very good needle retention|
|Concolor/ White Fir||Silvery blue-green||Good needle retention, needles have tendency to drop indoors|
|Subalpine/ Corkbark Fir||Blue||Excellent needle retention|
|Canaan Fir||Rich green||Good needle retention|
|Korean Fir||Green with silvery undersides||Excellent needle retention|
|Douglas Fir||Dark blue to yellow green||Fairly good on cut trees when foliage dries, better than Spruces but not as good as true Firs|
|Norway Spruce||Rich green||Poor on cut trees when foliage dries|
|Black Hills/ White Spruce||Blue-green||Poor on cut trees when foliage dries, has better needle retention compared to other Spruces|
|Serbian Spruce||Rich green above and frosted white below||Poor on cut trees when foliage dries|
|Colorado/ Blue Spruce||Light blue or gray||Good needle retention but loses needles quickly in a warm room|
|Sitka Spruce||Green above and bluish white below||Good needle retention|
|Eastern White Pine||Blue-green||Holds needles well but wilts noticeably|
|Stone Pine||Grayish-blue in juvenile trees, bright green in adults||Poor on cut trees when foliage dries|
|Scots/ Scotch Pine||Yellow-green or Grayish-blue/green||Excellent needle retention even when dry|
|Virginia Pine||Yellow-green||Excellent needle retention|
|Sand Pine||Dark green||Poor on cut trees when foliage dries|
|Austrian/ Black Pine||Dark green||Good needle retention|
|Ponderosa Pine||Bright green||Poor on cut trees when foliage dries|
|Deodar Cedar||Waxy blue to blue-green||Excellent only for two weeks, very poor when foliage dries|
|Leyland Cypress||Dark green-gray||Loses needles quickly in a warm room|
|Arizona Cypress||Light green to dark purplish/bluish green||Good needle retention|
|Eastern Red Cedar||Green and blue-green to yellow-green||Dries out rapidly and loses foliage when cut|
|Giant Sequoia||Green||Good foliage retention|
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.
- Christmas trees shed off their needles when they dry up and when they suffer from transportation stress or temperature changes.
- 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.
- Additives may have harmful effects on trees. Water is the best and safest nourishment.
- 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.
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