What To Do When Christmas Tree Won’t Drink Water? [Keep Chopped Tree Fresh]

Real, living Christmas trees have an aesthetic beauty and fragrance that artificial Christmas trees simply cannot match. But watering a real tree, especially if indoors in a container, is not an easy task! It requires consistency.

The only way to keep a chopped Christmas tree hydrated throughout the holiday season is to 1) remove the layer of sap through a new cut and 2) keep the exposed wood stump submerged in water. If left to dry, the sap seals off the Christmas tree and prevents water absorption.

If you find yourself struggling with a droopy, drying Christmas tree, read on to see how you can turn your evergreen, well, green and happy again.

The Correct Way To Water Your Chopped Christmas Tree

Water is your best friend during the holidays. Without it, your Christmas tree won’t stand a chance of looking lively throughout the festivities.

To maintain the maximum health of your tree for Christmas, let’s take a look at the Why’s, How’s, Dos, and Don’ts of watering and choosing your evergreen.

Why Won’t My Chopped Christmas Tree Drink Water?

The root system of a tree not only absorbs water, it also filters the nutrients and synthesizes the hormones which the plant needs.

When you cut off the roots of a Christmas tree, the tree continues to absorb and transport water through a network of “pipes” in its trunk and its leaves for some weeks, yet it is unable to receive the nutrients which only the roots can provide. This eventually weakens and kills the tree.

After cutting down a Christmas tree, the sap flowing out of the fresh wound hardens within 4-6 hours preventing any water uptake through the trunk. To keep your tree alive, saw off an inch off the stump to remove the sap which has sealed and then submerge the tree in a bucket of water.

To avoid fires and to maintain a perky Christmas tree which can hold up its ornaments, you should never allow your tree to dry out. Generally, a tree that has lost more than 85% of its original moisture will not regain its freshness [1].

You can also repeat this approach for a couple of days before Christmas so by then, your tree will be at the peak of its freshness!

Do’s and Don’ts in Fresh Christmas Tree Shopping

Ultimately, how long your Christmas tree can flourish in your house depends on the tree’s freshness upon buying. Therefore, it is important to pick out a tree which is strong and healthy from the beginning.

Keep these in mind when shopping for a freshly-cut Christmas tree:

  • DON’T buy old trees. Trees quickly dry out after being cut down. Some retailers will have old stocks of Christmas trees which had been hurriedly distributed for Thanksgiving sales. Choose a reputable grower or seller from your area who will tell you how far away and how long ago the trees had been harvested.
  • Do a freshness test. Take a branch and run your fingers from the innermost part, pulling outwards towards the tip. If a lot of needles fall off, that means the tree has been cut for a long time and is beginning to dry. If so, look for a fresher tree. You can also break a few needles. They should feel flexible, moist, and sticky.
  • Check the appearance. Fresh trees should have a natural waxy, green look and a fragrant smell. Watch out for droopy branches, yellowing needles, and some peeling bark. Also look out for bugs and spiders.
  • Choose a long, straight handle. The base of the tree should be straight, and at least 6-8 inches long to allow for easy mounting on the tree stand.
  • Wrap and secure the tree. On the way home, wrap the tree to keep the wind from drying off the needles. Tie down the tree properly to avoid needle loss from too much shaking.
  • Make a fresh cut. Upon arriving home, saw 1 inch off the base of the tree. Immediately let the tree sit in a bucket of water.
  • DON’T peel off the bark. When mounting the tree to its stand, make sure you don’t peel off the bark at the base. The bark contains a specialized layer of cells which is responsible for transporting the water to the rest of the tree [2].
  • DON’T keep the tree near sources of heat. Choose a display location which is far from vents, fireplaces, windows, televisions and other appliances which can generate heat that will cause the tree to dry out faster.

How Much Water Does A Freshly-Cut Christmas Tree Need?

After sawing off a fresh cut at the base of your Christmas tree, you can now mount the tree on your stand and fill it with water. As a general rule, never allow the water level to go lower than 2-3 inches above the cut. If this happens, make another fresh cut.

A freshly-cut tree will need plenty of water in its first week so it will be ideal to check your stand twice a day.

Judging on height, a 6-ft cut Christmas tree will drink up a pint of water for the first 12 hours, while an 8-ft Christmas tree will consume up to a gallon of water per day. Judging on diameter, a 2-inch wide tree will consume up to 2 quarts of water in a day, while a 4-inch-wide tree will need more than a gallon daily [3].

The amount of water consumption will vary according to the species and size of the tree, and the temperature of the room. In general, if the tree continues to absorb a constant amount of water, it means that the tree is about as healthy as when you first got it. The tree will need less water as it dries.

As long as you properly water and care for your Christmas tree, it can be safely decorated and displayed indoors for at least 2 weeks.

How to keep a Christmas Tree Alive Forever* (*Well, at least until the holidays are over.)

More Ways To Keep a Christmas Tree Hydrated and Fresh [Advanced Tips]

To keep a Christmas tree cut (with no roots) fresh for longer it is possible to use 1) sugar and honey in the water mix and 2) use antitranspirant spary on the leaves to limit the loss of water over time.

The tradition of bringing living Christmas trees inside homes has been around for 500 years [4]. Since then, people have come up with creative ways and experiments to nourish their freshly-cut Christmas trees.

A 2005 study done on Douglas Fir and Leyland Cypress trees recommends that the traditional water-holding Christmas tree stand is significantly more efficient than IV- watering devices [5]. Modern Christmas tree stands typically hold a gallon of water which is the same amount that a tree typically consumes in a day [6]. These stands also do an excellent job of keeping the tree steadily upright.

Some people have had success in keeping their cut Christmas tree fresh by adding a tablespoon of sugar, honey, or corn syrup in the water. Some others even go as far as adding bleach, aspirin, or soda into the mixture. However, experts caution that using chemicals may have adverse effects on the tree’s health [7]. Usually, water should be enough.

To slow down moisture loss of tree needles, farmers sometimes spray antitranspirant products on the leaves. A 2014 study done on Monterey Pine found that pine needles covered with hairspray retained 90% of their original aspect after 27 days [8].

Christmas Tree Species That Retain Water Best

Having needles scattered all over your house after the holidays is a real hassle. Vacuuming these needles can even become a fire hazard if the vacuum gets too hot. Of course, needle loss is directly correlated to the tree’s capacity to retain water.

After considering the availability of trees in your area and your preference in shape and smell, you can also choose your Christmas tree according to the species’ capability to hold water and subsequently keep their needles.

Research shows that the four varieties of trees which are best for water uptake, sap flow, and needle retention are: 1) Fraser Firs, 2) Balsam Firs, 3) Scotch Pines, and 4) Black Hills Spruce [9].

In general, Fir and Pine trees hold needles better than Spruce trees [10].

Christmas Trees as a Fire Hazard

A dry Christmas tree can go up in flames within a matter of minutes. The National Fire Protection Association states that Christmas Trees are involved in 500 fires per year [11].

Tips To Avoid Disaster – Infographic

Other than keeping your tree well-watered, here are a few tips you can follow to avoid a disaster:

  1. Avoid flammable ornaments. Do not use ornaments such as paper, candles, or pine cones to decorate your tree.
  2. Use safe, UL-approved lights. Underwriters Laboratories is a nationally-recognized organization which tests lighting appliances and gives them an approval rating. Also remember to throw away old and faulty bulbs and wires.
  3. Keep away from heat. Display your tree in a location which is far from vents, fireplaces, and appliances that can generate heat.
  4. Consider using flame-retardants. You can spray your ornaments with fire-retardant products before hanging them on the tree. The products may contain borax, ammonium sulfate, or calcium chloride [12].
  5. Turn off lights at night. Do not leave your Christmas lights on when no one is in the room.
Christmas tree - watered vs dry


  1. To ensure maximum freshness, choose a Christmas tree which is recently-cut.
  2. A sap-sealed stump will not absorb water. A fresh cut must be made at the base of the Christmas tree.
  3. It is necessary to keep the chopped Christmas tree soaked in water at all times.
  4. An average Christmas tree drinks up to a gallon of water each day.
  5. Pines and Firs generally retain water better than Spruce trees.
  6. Dry trees are extremely flammable and hazardous compared to well-watered trees.

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[1] https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/bitstream/handle/2142/27944/homecareofchrist1099boli.pdf?sequence=1

[2] https://wtop.com/garden-plot/2014/12/dont-cut-off-your-christmas-trees-bark/

[3] https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/water_is_the_essential_ingredient_in_keeping_your_farm_grown_christmas_tree

[4] https://na-st01.ext.exlibrisgroup.com

[5] https://scihub.yncjkj.com/10.1016/j.postharvbio.2006.08.011

[6] https://athenaeum.libs.uga.edu/bitstream/handle/10724/33680/ChristmasTrees-December62012.pdf?sequence=1

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

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

[9] https://archive.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/110730624.html/

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

[11] https://doctorfire.com/pages/ChristmasTreeFires.pdf

[12] https://books.google.com.ph/books?hl=en&lr=&id=80ZYUESZGJsC&oi=fnd&pg=PA1&dq=how+long+does+a+cut+christmas+tree+stay+fresh&ots=kL0-gJDHrn&sig=mo9QeEdhIP-qdV0ZBre5v_H94Ww&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false

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