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It's December, and that can mean only one thing: Christmas trees, wreaths, garland, fake snow, and all sorts of other decorations that will end up as a jolly mess for you to clean up.
One of the biggest culprits by far is pine needles. Sometimes it can seem like your tree sheds more than your pets, making your vacuum cleaner an unwelcome holiday guest. Even worse, your yuletide symbol could end up looking pretty sad come Christmas Day.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, Canadian scientists have finally figured out why needle drop occurs. About 10 days after a tree is cut, it begins releasing a hormone called ethylene, which tells branches to start dropping needles. That's a fact of life, but there are still some things you can do to stave off your tree's inevitable decay.
Don't Buy a Norway Spruce
Yes, they are more traditional, but they don't hold their needles as well as pine or fir trees, according to Oak Leaf Gardening. Instead, go for a Nordmann or Douglas fir tree. They cost more, but they'll save you from excessive vacuuming.
Check Before You Chop
Before you buy or cut down your tree, check the needles. According to Gardeners' World, if they easily come off the branches, you should look for another tree.
If your family is anything like mine, you need your tree to last for a month at the bare minimum. A tree that is already losing needles at the store probably won't make it.
If Buying Precut, Check the Trunk
The one advantage to chopping down your own Christmas tree is that it's still alive when you swing the axe, and set up in your home just hours later. When you buy a precut tree, you have no idea how long it's been out of the ground.
But Gardener's World has an easy trick to figure it out; just look at the color of the cut. The darker it is, the older it is, so try to find a very "pale" cut.
Saw Off the Bottom of the Trunk
If you're buying your tree from a store, you should cut off the bottom quarter to half of an inch of the trunk. According to the University of Florida, trunk cuts that are exposed to air will eventually seal themselves off with sap. Cutting off the base of the trunk gets rid of this seal and allows it to absorb water again.
The National Christmas Tree Association (a thing that apparently exists) adds that freshly cut trees only have about 6 to 8 hours before the trunk seals up, so make sure you get your tree into a water-filled stand immediately.
Leave the Bark Alone
If you can't fit the tree into your stand, buy a new stand. The tree absorbs water best in the layers below the bark, says the NCTA and Oak Leaf Gardening. By shaving off the bark, you're destroying these layers and hurting your tree's ability to absorb water.
Don't Let the Tree Dry Out
Like any plant, Christmas trees need water—a lot of it. The NCTA reports that more than 50 percent of a tree's weight is water, so to ensure that your tree is healthy, never let the base dry out. It should always be submerged in water.
To make sure that's the case, you need a tree stand with a large water reservoir. According to the NCTA, your reservoir needs to hold 1 quart of water for every inch of the trunk's diameter.
Both the NCTA and Oak Leaf Gardening add that you should also keep your tree away from heat sources, such as radiators or fireplaces. It may even help to turn down the thermostat in the room where the tree is placed.
Saving Your D(r)ying Tree
If you fear your tree has dried out and is no longer absorbing water, it might be worthwhile to cut holes into the base of the trunk, through the bark. This will supposedly allow the tree to absorb water without removing all the decorations and cutting off another piece of the trunk.
However, the jury is out on whether this technique actually works. The NCTA doesn't endorse it, but the University of Florida and Oak Leaf Gardening do. And at this point, you probably have nothing left to lose.
Invest in a Watering System
If you don't want to water your tree every day, or fear it drying out while you're away for a few days, you can always spring for a Christmas tree watering system. There are plenty of solutions for sale online and The Home Depot even has a page of its website devoted to the niche products.
But if you don't want to buy one of these systems, you can also make one yourself. Instructables has a DIY article devoted to building a system that looks like an inconspicuous present sitting under the tree.