How to stop Christmas tree needle-drop!

It’s that time of year again – many of us are going out to get the main decoration for the festive season, the Christmas tree. But how do you stop it dropping its needles after a week and looking more twig than tree? Here are our top tips:

  • Select a pine (Pinus) or fir (Abies) tree instead of the traditional Norway spruce (Picea abies), which drops its needles more readily. You will often find Nordman or Douglas varieties for sale. They are generally more expensive, but will hold their needles better.
  • Make sure you know the size of your tree holder before you shop, to ensure you don’t buy a tree which is too big or too small. An easy way to do this is to get a piece of string, adjust your holder to its maximum size, then put the string around the circumference this allows and cut it to size. Next adjust the holder to its minimum size and repeat with a second piece of string. Now you can take your strings and wrap them round the base of your prospective tree to check it will fit!
  • Check the needles before you buy – if they come off easily then the tree isn’t fresh and won’t last very long. Look at the base where it was sawn, the lighter the colour the fresher the tree.
  • As soon as you get the tree home, cut off about 5cm from the bottom and plunge it into a bucket of water. If the tree has sealed up its base since it was originally cut, removing the bottom will remove this seal and enable it to take up water again. You can also score the cut surface to increase water absorption. Put it in a sheltered, shady spot outside so it can have a good drink before coming indoors.
  • Put your tree in a container which will hold water and keep the water topped up – check it at least every other day, daily if it’s in a warm room. Never let it dry out at the base, or it may seal over the cut and stop taking up any further water.
  • Don’t remove any bark from the tree to get it into your container – this will significantly reduce the water uptake as the majority happens just below the bark.
  • If your tree is very dense, trim a few branches back to the trunk. This will give your tree a more graceful appearance, reduce the number of branches which need water and give you some trimmings to use elsewhere (just make sure the sap doesn’t leak out of the end and mark furnishings).
  • Christmas tree spray can be used to help retain the needles. This covers the needles with a film which seals the surface and prevents the tree losing moisture through its needles.
  • Turn off any radiators near the tree to keep it as cool as possible, and don’t put it near any other heat sources (such as fires).
  • Keep on watering your tree – yes, we know we’ve already mentioned this, but it really is the number one thing to do to keep your tree going for as long as possible!
  • If your tree does dry out and you’re worried it’s stopped taking up water you have a couple of options. The best bet is to take down the tree and saw about 5cm off the base. Obviously this isn’t a great option as it will take a lot of time and effort to undress and redress your tree! So you could have a go at drilling a couple of shallow, clean holes in the side of the base (under the water line).
  • Adding aspirin to the water or using distilled water are said to help prevent needle drop, however if you have pets be careful if trying aspirin in the water in case your pets drink from it.

Alternatively, you can buy a Christmas tree with roots. These either come as pot-grown or bare rooted (make sure ones in containers were grown in them, not grown in the ground then shoved into a container at the last minute). Often bare rooted trees don’t survive, due to the loss of roots when they were dug up, but they’re worth a go. Put them in a container of garden soil and keep them watered. Container grown trees stand a much better chance of survival. Both types should be kept in a shady, sheltered place outdoors until you need them, then treat them as you would a cut Christmas tree. After Christmas, assuming your tree is still alive, you can leave it outside in its pot in a sheltered spot ready to use next year.

And a few decorating tips!

  • Put your tree up the day before you decorate it (or in the morning, then decorated in the evening) to allow the branches to drop down into their natural position. That way you’re decorating the tree as it will ultimately appear, rather than a narrower, bunched up version. Alternatively, you could remove the netting while the tree is outside having its drink, which will give the branches time to drop down, however this will make the tree more cumbersome to carry into the house.
  • Give the tree a good shake once you’ve removed the netting to get rid of any loose needles and other debris.
  • Disguise the holder with a fabric ‘apron’ (a good craft project for the nimble fingered!) or with crèpe or wrapping paper.
  • Start by putting the lights on the tree so you can make sure they are well spread out. Test them first as you don’t want to be struggling to find the blown bulb once the lights are on the tree!
  • After the lights, put on any ‘draping’ decorations such as tinsel and strings of beads. Then hang the baubles and other decorations, before finishing with the star or angel on the top.

To prevent a Christmas disaster, always ensure your tree is placed well away from any open flames and that all lights are turned off before you go to bed. If you’re getting new lights, ensure you buy low-heat ones.

After Christmas, you can cut the branches from your tree to put into your compost (shred first if possible) and the trunk can make a useful support for climbing plants. Alternatively, many local authorities have a recycling scheme. Some garden centres will also give you a discount on your next purchase if you return your tree for recycling.