Tips for Christmas tree care
tree fresh
December 5, 2013
  • /ACES
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  • /Crop Sciences

URBANA, Ill. – Every holiday season there are stories about Christmas trees catching fire in homes, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), approximately one-tenth of 1 percent (0.12%) of residential fires involves a Christmas tree—both real and artificial. In fires where the Christmas tree was the first thing to burn, 44 percent of those fires involved an electrical malfunction, 24 percent of the fires were caused by the tree being too close to a heat source, and 6 percent were the result of children playing with fire or some other heat source, Wolford said.

To keep your tree from becoming a statistic, Wolford suggests following these tree-care safety tips.

If you are not putting the tree up right away, store it in an unheated garage or another area out of the wind and cold (freezing) temperatures. Make a fresh 1-inch cut on the butt end and place the tree in a bucket of water.

When you decide to bring the tree indoors, make another fresh 1-inch cut and place the tree in a sturdy stand that holds at least 1 gallon of water, or 1 quart of water for every inch of diameter of the trunk.

“Be sure to keep the water level about the base of the tree,” he noted. “If the base dries out, resin will form over the cut end and the tree will not be able to absorb water and will dry out quickly. Commercially prepared mixes, aspirin, sugar and other additives added to the water are not necessary. Research has shown that plain water will keep a tree fresh.”

Keep the tree as far away as possible from heat sources such as heaters, vents, and fireplaces. Keeping the room cool will slow down the drying process.

Check all Christmas tree lights for worn electrical cords. Be sure to use UL-approved electrical decorations and cords and turn off the tree lights when leaving the house or at night. Also, avoid overloading electrical circuits.

Wolford also suggests using miniature lights that produce less heat to reduce the drying effect on the tree.

Finally, take down the tree before it dries out. Many fresh-cut trees, if properly cared for, will last a few weeks before drying out, Wolford said.

“After Christmas, recycle your tree. Many communities will pick up trees and turn them into chips. Or you might consider putting the tree in your back yard and placing bread and suet among the branches for the birds,” he said.

For more information, visit the U of I Extension web site “Christmas Trees and More” at