Care of the Christmas Tree & Pests
How to Care for Your Farm-Grown Christmas Tree
When a Christmas tree is cut, more than half its weight is water. With proper care, you can maintain the quality of your tree. Below are a number of tips on caring for your tree:
- Displaying trees in water in a traditional reservoir type stand is the most effective way of maintaining their freshness and minimizing needle loss problems.
- Make a fresh cut to remove about a 1/2-inch thick disk of wood from the base of the trunk before putting the tree in the stand. Make the cut perpendicular to the stem axis. Don’t cut the trunk at an angle, or into a v-shape, which makes it far more difficult to hold the tree in the stand and also reduces the amount of water available to the tree.
- Once home, place the tree in water as soon as possible. Most species can go 6 to 8 hours after cutting the trunk and still take up water. Don’t bruise the cut surface or get it dirty.
- If needed, trees can be temporarily stored for several days in a cool location. Place the freshly cut trunk in a bucket that is kept full of water.
- To display the trees indoors, use a stand with an adequate water holding capacity for the tree. As a general rule, stands should provide 1 quart of water per inch of stem diameter. Devices are available that help maintain a constant water level in the stand.
- Use a stand that fits your tree. Avoid whittling the sides of the trunk down to fit a stand. The outer layers of wood are the most efficient in taking up water and should not be removed.
- Keep trees away from major sources of heat (fireplaces, heaters, heat vents, direct sunlight). Lowering the room temperature will slow the drying process, resulting in less water consumption each day.
- The temperature of the water used to fill the stand is not important and does not affect water uptake.
- Check the stand daily to make sure that the level of water does not go below the base of the tree. With many stands, there can still be water in the stand even though the base of the tree is no longer submerged in water.
- Drilling a hole in the base of the trunk does NOT improve water uptake.
- Use of lights that produce low heat, such as miniature lights, will reduce drying of the tree.
- Always inspect light sets prior to placing them on the tree. If worn, replace with a new set.
- Do not overload electrical circuits.
- Always turn off the tree lights when leaving the house or when going to bed.
- Monitor the tree for freshness. After Christmas or if the tree is dry, remove it from the house.
- Never burn any part of a Christmas tree in a wood stove or fireplace.
Prepared by Dr. Gary Chastagner and Dr. Eric Hinesley; edited by the National Christmas Tree Association
Pests on Cut Christmas Trees
Christmas trees are grown in a near- natural setting. Most tree patches are adjacent to woods. Native broad leaf plants and grasses serve as ground covers around trees. There is an abundance of wildlife and insect life — some of which make their homes in Christmas trees.
Unfortunately, your real Christmas tree may have an unwanted hitchhiker. There are several kinds of insects that spend the winter in trees. When you bring the tree into your home, the insects behave as though spring has come and become active again.
Please remember these pests are rare. Perhaps one tree in 100,000 has any one of these pests on it. Chances are you can get a real tree every year for the rest of your life and never be troubled with them again.
Should the growers have treated for these pests? Unfortunately, they didn’t even know they were there. It’s a little like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Sometimes only one tree in several acres of trees has one of these post-harvest pests on it. Although Christmas trees are regularly scouted for pests that damage the tree, these post-harvest pests are rarely observed in the field. No one knows they are in the tree until it is brought into the home. Growers try to be good stewards of the land and water.
Few insect and mite pests on Christmas trees create problems in the home. Only three rogues make the list of unwanted wintertime bugs: the aphid, the spruce spider mite, and occasionally, the praying mantis.
Aphids are large brown or almost black aphids. Aphids and their eggs are often hidden down inside the lower branches of Christmas trees where they are hard to find
Spruce spider mites appear as tiny red and brown dots when shaken out of Christmas trees. Spider mite feeding on the farm discolors the foliage of the tree and can lead to premature needle drop. In the home, spider mites can create small red stains on carpets, ornaments, or furnishings. Spider mites only feed on the tree and quickly die once the tree is removed.
Praying mantises are a well-known insect predator. Their egg cases are sometimes found in Fraser fir Christmas trees. Females lay between 200-400 eggs in the fall in a frothy liquid which hardens, sticking to the branch. Once warmed in the home, the eggs can hatch and the tiny mantis can disperse. Again, these insects do not bite or carry disease. If the egg case can be located,remove it from the tree and put it outside.