Christmas tree care – how to keep your Christmas tree alive and top tips for buying the best spruce

Follow these tips and your Christmas tree won't droop too soon...

Christmas living room with blue velvet sofas
(Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd)

Putting up the Christmas tree seems to get earlier and earlier every year. While once a tradition that happened no earlier than mid-December we are now seeing trees go up the second the Halloween decs come down (and obviously we aren't mad about it, who wouldn't want to bring to life all those beautiful Christmas tree ideas ASAP). 

But if you like a real spruce that does mean we are asking a lot of them to look lovely and full and fresh for a month, if not longer, so Christmas tree care has never been more important. So we've brought together the best tips for choosing a healthy fir and how to make them last right up until the 12th night...

Traditional christmas tree with red and green scheme

(Image credit: Polly Wreford)

How to pick the best Christmas tree

Ensuring your tree lasts longer starts right at the beginning, from that glorious day you go to pick your spruce. Now despite the Christmas tree trend for getting them up in November, if you want your tree to last all the way through the festive season the key is not to get it too early, the first week of December would be ideal to ensure your tree keeps its deep green color and all of its needles. 

When choosing a tree here are a  few things to look out for to help you pick the best fir that's going to last:

  1. Sounds obvious, but pick a tree that's lovely and luscious with an even deep green color and zero brown needles. You'll find that trees that are 'kept in the back' or in a shady spot behind other trees will be the most healthy so start your hunt there.
  2. Ensure the needles feel fresh and healthy and don't fall off as you move the tree. Try gently tapping the trunk against the floor and see how many needles fall. A few is fine but you want the majority to remain intacted. 
  3. Make sure there's enough of a trunk at the bottom so you can cut off a few inches (more on that later)
  4. Look at it from all angles. This is more for an appearance than the tree's health but just make sure it looks full and even all the way around. 

Consider the type of tree you want too. Each species of 'Christmas tree' looks a little different and has different qualities so do a bit of research so you know what you want before you buy.

The most popular options are pines, firs, and spruce trees and within those, there are a variety of different types too. 'There’s different breeds of Christmas tree, so it’s worth taking the time to research which breed of tree suits your household needs. Typically, spruce trees are the best option for a traditionally British Christmas tree, oozing a festive scent. However, their sharp needles mean they’re not the best option for families with children. Fir trees are known for their soft needles and durability – so if you’re looking that’s likely to shed less, that’s your best option.' says Evie Lane, Gardening Expert at Primrose.

'Once you’ve chosen your tree type, consider it from all angles. Is it straight? Is it the right size for your home? To check you’ve got a fresh tree that’s going to give you the most longevity, pull on a branch and let it spring back. A few needles shedding is normal, but if many needles fall off, it suggests the tree isn’t so fresh and won’t last long in a warm home.'

Christmas living room with pink velvet sofa and brightly decorated Christmas tree

(Image credit: Anna Stathaki)

How to keep a Christmas alive and fresh for longer

1. Trim the trunk

When you finally come to buy your tree, ask the seller to saw off the bottom couple of inches of the trunk. This creates a fresh cut and opens up the pores in the bark, which otherwise can block up with sap within a few hours of being cut. The Christmas tree is then able to drink water through these pores via capillary action.

And then, once you are home, if you aren't putting your tree up straight away be sure to store it outside in a bucket of water. Once you are ready to bring it indoors and start decorating cut another half-inch off the bottom.

2. Ensure there's always enough water

Watering is the key to keeping your Christmas tree looking fresher for longer. Make sure you choose a stand that allows you to fill it with plenty of water so your tree has access at all times. As a general rule of thumb, each inch of the trunk's diameter = one-quarter of the stand's capacity. 

Your Christmas tree may drink 2-3 pints (1-2 liters) of water per day, depending on its size and your central heating settings, so check in each day that the water is at an adequate level, topping it up regularly so that it always covers the bottom of the trunk. This is important as once the water level drops below the tree’s trunk, sap will re-seal the bark within a few hours, preventing the tree from drinking any further water even if you then re-fill the Christmas tree stand.

3. Keep the temperature right

Christmas trees are used to the cold, instantly bring them into a super warm environment and they are likely to suffer. While we aren't suggesting keeping your home at sub-zero temperatures to please your tree, minimize the shock of coming from the outdoors to in by keeping them away from any obvious heat sources like fireplaces, stoves and radiators which will dry out the tree quickly.

Christmas decorating idea with bright color paper garland around a tree

(Image credit: James Merrell)

How can you keep a Christmas tree from drying out?

The best way to keep a Christmas tree from drying out is to position it in a spot that's not too near a heat source and away from direct sunlight. Trim the trunk when you bring it home (or ask to have it done when you buy the tree) and ensure it always has plenty of fresh, cold water. 

'When you purchase a Christmas tree and you’re ready to put it up, place it in a sturdy stand that holds at least one gallon of water and keep this topped up so it fully covers the cut end of the trunk. Water absorption will keep your tree looking luscious and green, as well as preventing the needles from drying and shedding.' advises Evie.

'An important factor for getting the most time out of your tree is where you’re storing it. Think twice before storing it next to a heat source, be it a radiator or fireplace as the warmth can contribute to a dry tree. You should also use a humidifier when possible to add extra moisture to the air and combat any dryness emitted by your radiators.'

What can you put in water to keep a Christmas tree looking fresh?

There are always rumors floating around that if you put certain things in your Christmas tree's water it will keep it fresher for longer. Sugar, Coca-Cola, aspirin, we could go on, but the best way to care for your Christmas tree is just to stick with fresh, clean water straight from the tap. 

Pick a tree stand that can hold plenty of water and check the water levels each day to ensure the bottom of the trunk is always submerged. Top it up as and when is needed. 

How long can a Christmas tree live indoors?

With proper care a Christmas tree can last up to five weeks indoors before it starts to dry out and drop needles, so follow all our top tips and you should have no problem starting the festivities a bit earlier than usual. Once your tree has had its day be sure to look into Christmas tree recycling for an eco-friendly way to dispose of it. 

Jacky Parker is a London-based freelance journalist and content creator, specialising in interiors, travel and food. From buying guides and real home case studies to shopping and news pages, she produces a wide range of features for national magazines and SEO content for websites

A long-time contributor to Livingetc, as a member of the team, she regularly reports on the latest trends, speaking to experts and discovering the latest tips. Jacky has also written  for other publications such as Homes and Gardens, Ideal Home, Red, Grand Designs, Sunday Times Style and AD, Country Homes and Interiors and ELLE Decoration.