Christmas Tree & Holiday Plant Care Guide

When it comes to Christmas there are few iconic images like a beautiful, bright Christmas tree. Contrary to a common misconception, choosing a real Christmas tree as instead of an artificial one is much more environmentally friendly.

  • Only a portion of planted trees are harvested every year, the rest provide natural habitats
  • For every Christmas tree harvested, 1-3 saplings are planted in its place
  • Real trees have a much lower (near zero!) carbon footprint in their life cycle

In this Christmas Tree Guide we’ll provide information to help you select and care for your perfect real Christmas tree to keep it fresh and healthy throughout the holiday season.

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Tips to Care for and Water Your Christmas Tree

Some advice and tips to help keep your Christmas tree alive and beautiful;

Cut about an inch off the base of your Christmas tree before setting it up

After trees are cut at the farm, the cut end will begin to dry out and resin can clog the water conducting tissues, limiting water uptake. A fresh cut allows the tree to easily take up water and keep the tree hydrated. A hydrated tree will hold its needles longer than a dried out tree. 

Check the reservoir and water your Christmas tree regularly

Water is key to keeping your tree fresh. A fresh tree can use up to 1 quart of water per day per inch of trunk diameter. Your tree might be a bit dry when you pick it up and require more water than this, up to a gallon! Always keep the water level above the base of the tree, and use plain tap water without any additives​​.

Consider your Christmas tree’s location in your home

Choose a location away from heat sources like fireplaces or radiators, as heat can speed up the drying process. Also, consider the space needed for the tree's height and width​​. Don’t forget to account for the tree’s topper and the additional height the stand will create. 

Use caution when choosing decorations for your Christmas tree

Using lights that produce too much heat can dry your tree out faster and can even become fire hazards. LED lights are the ideal choice for Christmas tree lights as they don’t produce much heat. Be wary of heavy decorations as they can cause damage to branches and cause unsightly gaps in the branches and foliage.

Selecting your Christmas Tree

Most of the Christmas trees commercially produced come from one of three main groups: fir, spruce, and pine. 

Firs are known for their delightful Christmas fragrance, appealing conical shape, and attractive coloring. They are identified by their soft, flattened needles. Balsam and Fraser firs have enjoyed widespread popularity as Christmas trees. Douglas firs are not a true fir, but a fir-like species. They have been scarce for Christmas tree shoppers due to their usefulness in construction and requirements for intense management for success.  

Spruces are a longtime Christmas tree favorite and are identified by their short, stiff needles. Unfortunately the needles can be sharp but this can be viewed as a perk to keep pets and children away from your tree decorations. Historically white spruces and Norway spruces were the holiday staples but blue spruces and their attractive blue-green foliage have become the most popular spruce Christmas tree by touting best-in-class needle retention, a weakness for other spruces.

Pines  appearance varies considerably but they typically have longer needles and boast the best needle retention for Christmas trees, a highly desirable trait. Their primary downfall is being more susceptible to disease and pests along with a tendency for crooked growth. 

The physical characteristics and attractiveness of species varies, each with different strengths. Fragrance reflects how strong and attractive their smell is. Appeal is attributed to symmetry, straightness, and conical shape. Pests shows how resilient the tree is to contracting pests and diseases, affecting the lifespan of the tree and potentially bringing them into your home. Needle Retention indicates how well the tree retains their needles. See how your favorite stacks up below!

Tips to Care for Other Holiday Plants

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)

These colorful plants present beautiful red, pink, or white leaves or bracts during the winter months. They don’t need to be fertilized during winter months but you can begin using a light fertilizer when you see new growth in the spring. ‘Reblooming’ a poinsettia to reacquire the color after it turns green for the spring and summer requires removing the plant from regular light for a period of time. Typically 14 hours a day for about a month. This slows chlorophyll production changing the leaves (bracts) color to red, pink, or white. 

  • Recommended Soil: BuildASoil Potting Soil 3.0
    • In pots, use a soil mix with a good amount of organic matter such as peat moss. Make sure your new pot has good drainage.
    • In the garden, plant into a garden bed with well-drained soil that gets 4 to 5 hours of sun per day. Mix in organic matter such as peat moss or compost into the soil. This will help maintain soil moisture and create a good growing environment for the roots.  
    • Water your poinsettia thoroughly after transplanting.
  • Indoor light: Full, bright light
  • Outdoor light: Partial sun, 4 to 6 hours daily.
  • Temperature
    • 65-70°F
    • Avoid placing where temperatures fluctuate or in excessively dry areas like near drafts, heat ducts, fireplaces, fans, space heaters, etc.
    • Temperatures 50°F and below cause damage and freezing temperatures can kill.

Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii)

A popular gift during the holidays, the Christmas cactus is a native to the rainforest, contrary to their name. They display gorgeous blooms and can live for over 100 years, getting passed on through families for years. A common issue is a lack of buds, caused by improper conditions.

  • Recommended Soil: bio365 BIOALL
    • Holiday cacti require good drainage and aeration for healthy root growth.
    • Holiday cacti bloom best when kept somewhat pot-bound.
    • Healthy plants may only need repotting every three years.
  • Indoor light: Bright filtered light
  • Outdoor light: Shorter days (shorter light cycle) along with cooler nights signal the plant to produce buds. 
  • Temperature
    • Daytime: 65-70°F
    • Evening/Night: 55-65°F
    • Plants are unlikely to bloom if exposed to night temperatures above 65° F. 


Interesting Facts and Data about Christmas Trees

  • In the US, over 20 million Christmas trees are harvested each year
  • Fraser Fir is the best selling Christmas tree species in the U.S., accounting for one third (33%) of all trees sold
  • Nearly 70% of all Christmas trees purchased last year were real trees
  • The Christmas tree selected to be put up at the White House in 2023 is an 18½ foot Fraser fir from Fleetwood, NC
  • A Christmas tree will grow for 4-15 years before reaching typical height (6 - 8 feet) depending upon the species, environment, etc.

Author | Chris McDonald

With two decades of expertise, Chris leads Happy Hydro in redefining sustainable gardening and delights in backpacking adventures, mind-expanding journeys, and creating memories with his loved ones.

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