A decorated evergreen tree can be a wonderful addition to the house during the holiday season, but when not properly selected and maintained it can also represent a potential fire hazard. You can have a beautiful and safe holiday tree if you follow a few simple suggestions.
You can’t turn a dry tree into a fresh tree, so it’s important to start with a fresh tree. Most cut Christmas trees are harvested several weeks before they’re sold and they can vary a lot in freshness depending on how they have been handled. One way to assure getting a fresh tree is to cut your own at a local tree farm. There are a number of Christmas tree farms in Maryland and with a little driving you can usually buy a tree cut that day.
The Needle Drop Test
If you buy a tree from a local lot check it for freshness. To judge freshness, do the “needle drop test.” Grasp the tree firmly by the trunk midway between the top and the bottom. Lift the tree about a foot off the ground and strike the cut trunk back into the ground. If this results in a shower of needles from the tree, look for another tree. If no, or only a few needles fall off, the tree is fresh.
Getting the Tree Home
If you have to travel a long distance when buying a cut tree, protect it from drying wind by placing it in the trunk of the car, in the back of a station wagon, or in an enclosed truck. If the tree must be tied to the top of a car, first wrap it with cloth or plastic. The wind created by a moving vehicle will cause excessive drying out of the needles.
Keep the Tree Cool, Shaded and Well Watered
Once you get the tree home, cut an inch thick section off the base of the trunk and place the tree in a container of water. This will allow water to be quickly absorbed into the tree. Sometimes cutting an inch off the trunk isn’t easy, but it is very important. A good tree-pruning saw will make this job a lot easier.
Place the tree, with its trunk in a container of water, in a cool, shaded, windless location. A garage or unheated porch is ideal.
Water, Water, Water
The key to keeping a cut Christmas tree fresh and fire safe is water. If an evergreen is full of water, there is very little fire danger. However, as soon as the tree is cut, it begins to dry out, and your job is to get water back into the tree as quickly as possible. Immediately after you get the tree home, cut off a piece of the trunk and place the tree into a container of water. The water in this container should be changed daily. Once you’re ready to bring the tree into the house for decorating, trim off another piece of the trunk and place the tree in a stand that holds water.
Keeping the Water Fresh and Clean
Within a few days, bacteria will grow in the tree stand water and will begin to block the water conducting tissue in the tree trunk. There are two methods of keeping bacteria out of the cut Christmas tree water: (1) changing the water daily, and (2) adding a small amount of disinfectant to the water. Changing the water daily works well during the time between the purchase of the tree and it is brought into the house. Once the tree is placed in its permanent tree stand, it’s usually difficult to change the water. This is where the use of a disinfectant can really help keep the water free of bacteria. The easiest disinfectant to use is household bleach. Two ounces of bleach added to a gallon of water will prevent the buildup of bacteria and allow an uninterrupted flow of water into the tree.
What About Special Water Additives?
Often you’ll find all sorts of strange things recommended to put in the tree water. Anything from soda pop to aspirins. Water is the critical ingredient in terms of keeping the cut Christmas tree fresh and fire safe. The tree stand water reservoir should never be allowed to dry out and the water should be kept free of bacteria by changing it often or the use of a bleach disinfectant. There is really no need for fertilizers, sugars, or other incidental ingredients. Don’t worry about special additives, just keep the tree in water.
Placing and Decorating the Tree
The tree should be located in the house as far as possible from heat sources, such as a radiator, fire place, or kerosene heater. Carefully check wires and connections of all lights placed on the tree. Avoid plugging too many light sets into the same electrical outlet. Keep all gift wrapping and other flammable materials from direct contact with the tree. Never plug in the tree lights unless someone will be home to keep an eye on the tree. Check the water in the tree stand reservoir daily and add more water, plus a little bleach, whenever the level is getting low.- Do not allow the water reservoir to go dry, this will allow air to get into the cut trunk and retard the future uptake of water.
REMEMBER! For a fresh, and SAFE, cut Christmas tree:
Start with a fresh tree. Protect the tree on the drive home. Cut an inch off the trunk. Place the tree in water right away.
Keep the tree in a cool, shaded location until brought inside.
Always keep water in the tree stand.