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How to water a Christmas tree: the ultimate guide

Christmas is a magical season. However, a brown and crumbling Christmas tree is not so magical. Here’s everything you need to know about watering your live Christmas tree

I’m going to let you in on a secret – I like fake Christmas trees.

I know, I know, that’s controversial. And Sean wholeheartedly disagrees.

But fake trees are so easy! They are pre-lit and our newest one you don’t even have to plug the sections together, just snap the trunk in place and you are good to go.

Too bad for me, because Sean requires a real tree.

Cut trees are hard to care for! You have to actually… care for them!

I’ll never forget the year we got a tree from Costco (so cheap but you literally didn’t get to see the trees, they were in a truck, wrapped up, and you got what you got).

That sucker never drank a drop of water and was so dry and crispy. It was an extreme fire hazard and it was down and out of our house on December 26th.

Over the last half a decade or so of having a live tree, I’ve learned a lot about tree care. Here are my best tips!

Picking a Christmas tree

If you want a lush, healthy real Christmas tree, the first step is to pick a good one.

Cutting a fresh tree from an actual farm is the only way to know for sure that you are getting a fresh tree. However, that’s not possible everywhere.

You don’t need the tallest tree on the block, but there are a few features that you should keep in mind when selecting your tree.

Feel the needles

First, crush the needles in your fingertips. They should not fall off easily. Then, smell your fingers. There should be a strong fragrance!

If the needles fall off or there is no fragrance, it might be drying out already.

Shake the tree

Don’t get crazy in the tree lot, but give the tree a gentle shake. It should not drop significant needles. Dropping needles is another sign that it might no longer be drinking water.

Touch the trunk

Fresh trees will usually have a slight stickiness to the trunks, as a result of the fresh, wet sap.

Stickiness is a good sign that the tree is fresh cut!

Before you put the tree in a tree stand

It is important to cut at least 1/2 an inch off the bottom of your tree’s trunk!

This is kind of like when you put flowers in a vase. Making a fresh cut open it up so the base of the tree is fresh and most likely to absorb water.

Put the tree in water as soon as possible after cutting it, before the sap has a chance to seal up. Think of it as a wound you don’t want to have a chance to form a dry scab!

Also, be sure that your tree is positioned away from heat sources like hot air vents or fireplaces. This could be a fire hazard, but also the heat can dry out the tree!

How to water a Christmas tree

How to water a Christmas tree

Watering a Christmas tree seems obviously easy, but it’s annoyingly difficult.

The hole in the stands are usually very steep, making it hard to “get in there” with a watering can.

Plus, there are branches right there, making it hard to raise the watering can vertically and also very dark.

I have best luck sticking my fingers into the hole in the stand – about 1 inch – and watering until I can feel the water level.

Have a towel on hand in case you mis-judge and overflow the stand.

You can use a watering can with a long spout or a watering funnel. Those funnels are pricey but could definitely be DIYed with a plastic funnel and thick tube!

You can also use a spray bottle to gently mist your

How much water should I give my Christmas tree?

Christmas trees can drink as much as a gallon of water a day!

The “rule of thumb” is to measure the diameter of your tree’s trunk. Each inch equals one quart of water per day.

In general, I fill our tree stand first thing in the morning and again before bed.

Pay attention to the water capacity of your tree stand. If it doesn’t hold at least a gallon of water, you are going to need to refill it multiple times a day.

Should I put warm water in my Christmas tree?

You should water your Christmas tree with room temperature water. However, there could be some benefit to watering your tree with warm-to-hot water – the first time!

Very hot – or even boiling water – can help to melt sap that might have sealed across the base of the trunk of the tree. This is only necessary if the tree has been out of water for a while and the cut has been sealed with sap.

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What do you add to water to make Christmas tree last longer?

My Great-Aunt Charlotte used to always say to put a little Coca Cola in your tree water to make it last longer.

Another common tip is to feed your tree sugar water- bring a gallon of water to a boil and add a cup of white sugar. Stir to combine and let cool before giving to tree.

However, there is no evidence that any kind of sugar water actually helps. I put this in the category of old wives tale!

How to make your Christmas tree look taller

What do you do if your Christmas tree isn’t drinking water?

Don’t cry! If you catch it soon enough, you can try to save it.

Usually a tree stops drinking water if the stand goes dry and the “wound” scabs over with sap.

The best solution is to cut an inch off the bottom of the trunk, but if it’s decorated, this isn’t easy.

You can take a saw or knife and cut one inch deep incisions in the part of the trunk that falls under the water line on the stand. This can give it a fresh opening to start drinking water again.

Alternatively, if you have one of those stands that screws 4 holes into the tree trunk, unscrew them, rotate so the holes are in new spots, and re-screw. The tree may drink through those now exposed holes, assuming they are in the water.

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Charleston Coastal Christmas Tree with sand dollars, pastel houses, and beach ornaments

Frequently Asked Questions

What do I mix with Christmas tree water?

You don’t need to mix anything with Christmas tree water – fresh clean water works great. You can boil 1 gallon of water with 1 cup of sugar, but that is not proven to make a difference.

How do you keep a Christmas tree from drying out?

The most important thing to keep a Christmas tree fresh is to make a fresh cut when you get it – cutting at least 1 inch off the bottom of the trunk – and get it in water as soon as possible. Then, don’t ever let the water run out or the sap will seal off the bottom and it will no longer drink.

Do you put sugar in Christmas tree water?

It is a common suggestion to water your Christmas tree with warm sugar water. You can boil 1 gallon of water with 1 cup of sugar. But, it’s not proven to make a difference.

Do you use hot or cold water for Christmas trees?

It is generally thought that warm or hot water is absorbed quicker than cool water. So, if your tree is very thirsty, warm water might help. Otherwise, it doesn’t make a difference.

Can you overwater Christmas tree?

No. If a tree is “done” drinking, it will simply stop drinking water. You cannot overwater it.

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