How to care for your Christmas tree

By Andy McIndoe

Top tips for a happy Christmas tree

It's always a challenge to help your Christmas tree look great throughout the holiday period. Remember this is a living thing: I want you to think of it as a cut flower. If it gets a good drink and you maintain the water supply it should stay in peak condition until well into New Year.

If it doesn’t get water it will wither and die. It won’t wilt and fall over like a delicate cut flower, but it will lose lustre and may drop its needles, depending on variety.

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When we just used Norway spruce as a Christmas tree we expected it to drop its needles: it was almost a feature of Christmas.

The advent of the no-needle-drop tree, mainly Nordmann fir, stopped all that, but it did mean we expected the tree to survive whatever we did with it.

Put it in a stand without water and it will soon look dry, lack lustre and miserable. The warmer your house, the worse it is for the tree.


So first things first: buy a good tree from a reputable supplier. Never buy one ready wrapped; you may be disappointed when the netting comes off.

A heavy tree means a fresh tree and it should have shining lustrous needles; a few dropping off is normal, they may have been damaged in transit.


When choosing your tree think about how you will decorate it. Bushy trees that have been pruning regularly while growing are good at hiding lighting cables but the can be difficult when it comes to hanging ornaments.

Don’t put off buying your tree awaiting fresh stock to arrive: they have usually all been cut at the same time so you may as well get in early and get the pick of the crop.

Don’t be concerned that you are stripping a forest by buying a real tree. Christmas trees are grown as a crop to be cut and sold. By buying a real tree you are supporting and important aspect of Forestry.

Unwrap the trunk of the tree

Your tree should be netted or tied to enable you to get it home easily. When you get it home cut off the trunk end of the netting to reveal the cut end of the stem.

Prepare a bucket with fresh flower food

Prepare a bucket of clean water and add cut flower food according to the manufacturer’s instructions; this really makes a difference and helps to prolong the life of your tree.

Cut off the bottom 10cm (3 inches)

Saw off the bottom 5-8cm (2-3ins) of the trunk with a sharp saw to leave a nice clean, straight cut so that your tree will eventually stand straight in its stand.

Cut off the netting
Nice clean cut

Now cut off the rest of the netting.

Stand the tree and remove net

Stand the tree up and pull away the netting allowing the branches to fall naturally into shape. At this stage you may need to trim off any damaged foliage.

Give the tree a good shake

Now give the tree a thorough shake to dislodge any damaged needles. This will also help the branches to drop into place.

Place in the bucket of water

Now stand the tree in the bucket of water containing cut flower food. You will need to prop it up somewhere where it won’t get blown over. This may mean tying it temporarily to a drainpipe.

Keep the bucket topped up

You will need to check the bucket regularly and keep it topped up with water containing cut flower food. You should use the same solution when the tree is eventually put into a Christmas tree stand and moved indoors.

You must use a stand that holds plenty of water and keep it topped up with the solution as the tree takes it up.

Admire the tree

If you follow these instructions your Christmas tree should remain in perfect condition throughout the holiday period. Look after it properly and your Christmas tree will look just as good when you take it out of the house as when you first put it in place.

Of course some of us are tempted to buy a Christmas tree with roots with the idea of planting it in the garden afterwards. Although this may be a pleasing idea in some ways I would always urge you to consider whether a Norway spruce or a Nordmann fir is a really appropriate addition to your garden?

Normally they get far too large, are impossible to grow anything under and become more unattractive with age.

Surely an ornamental garden tree would be a more appropriate choice. In my opinion a Christmas tree is for Christmas, not for life.

But if you're looking for ideas for trees for your garden try my online Trees course:

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Andy McIndoe

Andy McIndoe: Trees - Gardening

Trees taught by Andy McIndoe

Andy McIndoe teaches you how to choose the right tree for your garden. Including trees for small gardens, planting and maintenance.

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Andy McIndoe

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