Yard and Garden: Christmas Trees

Buying local often times means buying locally grown food, but in December, it can also mean buying a Christmas tree from a local grower. Christmas trees are grown in Iowa and all 50 states, including Alaska and Hawaii. More than 35 million Christmas trees are harvested each year in the U.S. Iowa State University Extension horticulturists provide tips on fresh Christmas trees. To have additional questions answered, contact ISU Extension Hortline at 515-294-3108 or hortline@iastate.edu.

How can I determine the freshness of a cut Christmas tree?  

The freshness of cut Christmas trees can be determined with a few simple tests. Gently run your hand over a branch. The needles on a fresh tree will be pliable. Those on a dry tree will be brittle. Another test is to lift the tree by the trunk and lightly bounce the butt on the ground. Heavy needle drop indicates a dry tree. A fresh tree will drop only a few needles.  

What is the best way to store a cut Christmas tree?  

If you don't intend to set up the Christmas tree immediately, place the tree in a cool, sheltered location. An unheated garage or shed is often a suitable storage site. (The sun and wind will dry out trees stored outdoors.) Put the butt of the tree in a bucket of water. Remove an inch or more from the bottom of the trunk before bringing the tree in the house. A fresh cut facilitates water uptake.  

Should I add any material to the water to prolong the freshness of my Christmas tree?  

Do not add molasses, sugar, soft drinks, aspirin or commercial products to the water. Additives provide no real benefit. The keys to keeping a Christmas tree fresh are to place the tree away from any heat source (fireplace, heater, radiator, etc.) and keep the tree reservoir full of water. Check the tree reservoir at least once or twice a day. Fresh trees absorb large quantities of water (especially in the first few days). If the water level drops below the bottom of the trunk, water uptake will be drastically reduced or cease when the reservoir is refilled. A fresh, well-cared-for Christmas tree should be able to remain in the home for three to four weeks.  

There are some tiny bugs on my Christmas tree.  What should I do?

Aphids and spiders are the two most commonly found pests on fresh-cut Christmas trees. In both cases, adults that were on the trees back in late summer or fall laid eggs on the stems or needles. These eggs normally remain dormant through the inhospitable weather of winter, but they hatch when they become sufficiently warmed by heat within the house. An infestation may vary from just a few to several hundred individuals. Newly hatched insects and spiderlings are very small (approximately 1/16 inch).

None of the insects or spiders that emerge after being carried in on a fresh-cut tree will cause any harm or damage to the tree, the house, the furnishings or the occupants. They cannot bite or sting and they will not live long enough to grow or multiply. The tiny insects or spiderlings are simply an annoyance.

An application of an insecticide to fresh-cut Christmas trees is not necessary or recommended. The insects and spiders will quickly die of starvation or desiccation, whichever comes first. If newly hatched insects or spiders are found on the floor or other areas around the tree, simply vacuum them up and discard them.  

What are some good ways to dispose of a Christmas tree after the holidays?  

After the holidays, there are several ways to dispose of or recycle your tree (before recycling your Christmas tree, remove all lights, ornaments and tinsel).

Place the tree in the yard or garden for use by birds and other wildlife. The branches provide shelter from strong winds, snow and cold temperatures. Food can be supplied by hanging fruit slices, seed cakes, suet bags or strings of cranberries or raisins on the tree’s branches. You can also smear peanut butter and seeds in pine cones and hang them in the tree.

Prune off the tree’s branches and place the boughs over perennials as a winter mulch. Chip the tree and use the chipped material as a mulch around trees, shrubs or in perennial flower beds.

If you can't use the tree yourself, contact local government offices, such as the Public Works Department or your sanitation service. Most communities have some type of Christmas tree disposal program. Some have central collection points; others collect the trees at curbside.

Conservation groups may be another option. Some hunting and fishing groups collect trees and use them to provide habitat for wildlife.


Selecting a Christmas Tree from Iowa State University Extension on Vimeo.