Q&A on Christmas tree maintenance

Making sure a Christmas tree doesn’t become an unsightly fire hazard before Dec. 25 is a yearly challenge, so knowing how to maintain one of your primary decorations is vital for both safety and decor.

Dr. Kevin Korus, an agriculture and natural resources agent with the UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County, specializes in plant health and provided tips on how to keep your Christmas tree looking good throughout the holiday season.

Question: What should a person look for when they purchase a tree?

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Korus: Make sure the tree is the right size and fit for your house. Choose a tree that has a nice “pine” scent and is a dark green, healthy color. You can pick the tree up and bump the stump on the ground and if many needles fall off, consider a different tree. You want a tree whose needles are held tightly. In general, pine trees will lose their needles much quicker than some of the other evergreen tree options like cedar, fir, spruce and juniper. If you are looking to buy a potted tree that can be planted after the holiday season, select a species that grows well in Florida like red cedar, Arizona cypress, sand pine or a juniper.

Q: When is the best time to select a tree?

Korus: This is up to the individual to decide. However, even if watered correctly, most trees will only last for a few weeks before they become too dry. Most experts recommend removing the tree by New Years.

Q: What types of trees are the best to purchase?

Korus: This depends on the shape and needle size that the individual would like. Firs, pines and spruce trees make great cut Christmas trees. Pine needles are the longest, fir and spruce needles are about the same length but fir needles are a bit softer than spruce, which can be rather stiff and pokey.

Q: Once a person obtains a tree, what are the first things they should do to have the best success in keeping the tree from drying out?

Korus: It is always good to make a fresh cut at the bottom of the stump to ensure that water can move freely up. Callus tissue starts forming immediately after cutting and this can block the water conducting parts of the trunk. Therefore, cut the stump at the store before leaving or just before placing the tree in the stand with the water. Make sure that the water bowl is always filled.

UF-IFAS Dr. Kevn Korus

Q: How often should water be checked?

Korus: Every day. You do not want the water bowl to dry up! Make sure it is always full.

Q: What is the best way to keep animals from drinking the tree water?

Korus: A physical divider, like a cone, can be placed over the water bowl to keep pets out. Place a skirt around the tree for easy needle clean up.

Q: Do tree decorations, especially lights, speed up the drying process?

Korus: Decorations will not hasten the drying process but having the lights on all night might cause the tree to use more water. The most important consideration is that you use indoor and not outdoor lights. And do not place the tree near fireplaces, furnaces or any other place that could cause a fire hazard.

Q: What if the tree is neglected and dries out days/weeks before Christmas and potentially becomes a fire hazard and/or is dropping needles everywhere?

Korus: Unfortunately, at this point, the tree is a fire hazard and should be removed from the home.

Q: When the holiday is finally over, what are the best ways to dispose of the tree?

Korus: Never burn your tree in a fireplace. Bring your tree to a recycling center or have it picked up by a community pick-up service.

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