Real Christmas Tree Care 101: How to Care for Live Christmas Trees

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The holidays are coming, and many families want to buy a fresh Christmas tree for their home. But, you probably wonder how you keep a real Christmas tree looking fresh or which live Christmas trees keep their needles the longest? Use these must-have tips this holiday season!

There’s nothing like coming home to the sight (and smell!) of a fresh Christmas tree.

Real Christmas trees are gorgeous and fill your home with a scent that instantly makes you think of the holidays. Even with all their strengths, live trees present their own set of challenges. 

I thought it might be helpful to have an all-in-one guide that you can quickly reference to help you pamper your tree so that you can enjoy its natural beauty for as long as possible. Use these tips to keep your Christmas tree fresh for as long as possible.

Best Types of Christmas Trees

Keeping your Christmas tree looking beautiful and lush throughout the holiday starts with picking the best types of trees.  We like to venture to a local tree farm to find our trees as they are cut fresh (no sitting out for weeks in trucks), last longer, and tend to have less damage and healthier Christmas trees. Plus, we support a local business, so it’s a win-win.

What kind of tree is a Christmas tree? Well, it’s an evergreen conifer!

Common types include:

  • Spruce
  • Fir
  • Pine

I’m including a brief description of each type’s benefits and drawbacks to help you find the perfect type.


Firs, they generally have good needle retention and stiff branches.

Douglas Fir Christmas Tree

Douglas Firs have a terrific pyramid shape and look very full due to having (dark green or dark blue-green) soft needles in all directions. They are a very popular type of Christmas tree and are shipped around the country (as well as to other countries worldwide).

Fraser Fir 

Fraser Firs smell incredible, and they have a compact shape and stiff branches that turn upward slightly, making them a favorite for small spaces and easily hanging lots of ornaments. Their dark blue-green foliage and great needle retention make them popular Christmas trees.

Noble Fir

The deep green foliage of the noble fir is frequently used for fresh wreaths. Its stiff branches tend to turn upward at the ends, making them ideal for hanging heavy ornaments.

Balsam Fir

These trees are just bursting with aroma for that “It’s Christmas” smell, lovely dark green appearance, and long-lasting needles. Their compact shape makes them ideal for anyone short on space. On the downside, they require a lot of water to prevent drying out.

Green fir tree isolate on white background


Spruce trees typically have great shapes, short needles, and full-looking foliage.

Colorado Blue Spruce

This tree species has a nice conical shape and striking foliage that appears silvery blue. Although one of the best species for retaining its needles, they are sharp (watch tiny fingers!) and release a bad odor when crushed.

White Spruce

The white spruce is terrific for hanging ornaments due to its short, stiff needles with blunt tips. They have an excellent shape and foliage color (green to bluish-green) and excellent needle retention.

Learn More: Did you know that your white spruce Christmas tree may form roots during the holiday season and it may transplant out into your yard successfully? Not all Christmas trees can be transplanted, but white spruce trees have a chance of being transplanted from a straight cut. Check out our guide to replanting Christmas trees here.


Pines are known for their distinctive long needles and wonderful pine aroma.

Scots (aka Scotch) Pine

This Christmas tree species’ beautiful bright green foliage makes it a popular holiday choice. It’s so popular that it’s the most common Christmas tree in the US due to its stiff branches, full foliage with long needles, and the tendency to hold onto its needles even when they’re dry.

Virginia Pine

Virginia pines have an excellent pine fragrance, terrific needle retention, and strong branches supporting heavy ornaments.

Eastern White Pine

Long, feathery-looking needles make this tree an ornament, which is good because its flexible branches and full foliage can create ornament-hanging challenges. It has a beautiful bluish-green color and terrific needle retention but little aroma. 

Green pine tree isolated on white background

Which Types of Christmas Trees Drop the Fewest Needles?

This is a tricky question with a slightly unclear answer. First, all live trees will lose needles from moving around or getting too dry. 

Next, my answer reflects how close these tree species are to each other regarding holding on to their needles.

Are you ready? Drumroll…the Christmas trees that drop the fewest needles comes to a 3-way tie because they all last 4-5 weeks:

  1. Douglas Fir
  2. Fraser Fir
  3. Scotch (Scots) Pine 

Bottom Line: No matter which tree you choose for your home, the most important thing you can do to prevent it from dropping needles is to keep it hydrated.

How to Keep a Christmas Tree Alive

When it comes to caring for a real Christmas tree, there are a few important things to know;

Make a Fresh Cut

After a tree has been cut, it forms a resin layer over the cut surface, like a scab. This resin layer hinders water absorption and will cause your tree to dry out more quickly.

To prevent this, have the tree seller make a fresh cut across the trunk to remove that resin layer and help the tree absorb water.  Or you can trim the trunk when you get home.

A Christmas tree cut and ready to move at a tree farm

Tree Stand

Use a plastic or metal Christmas tree stand to stay upright and soak in water.  Ensure the tree stand has adequate space for water; you will be surprised how much water your live tree will need. Keep the tree stand filled!

Water, Water, Water

How much water does a real Christmas tree need?

Let me put it this way: your tree will likely drink more water than you realize. A good rule of thumb to ensure your tree always has enough water is to fill the tree stand with 1 quart of fresh tap water for every inch of tree trunk diameter.

For example, A tree with a 4-inch diameter will need a gallon of fresh water in the stand. Be sure to check the water level daily and refill as needed.

Avoid Additives

People will likely recommend adding bleach, crushed aspirin, or floral preservatives to the water in the tree stand. However, you only need plenty of fresh tap water to quench its thirst.

Fire Hazard Safety Precautions For Live Christmas Trees

One common concern regarding having a live tree is its fire hazard. To reduce that risk, follow these safety precautions:

  • Keep your tree hydrated by watering it daily.
  • Carefully choose your tree’s location so it’s away from heat sources.
  • Inspect all lighting and decorations – throw away any that are damaged.
  • Unplug at night – don’t keep the lights lit all night, as they can get too hot.
  • Keep the tree away from heat sources to prevent it from drying out.

Decorating your home for the holidays with a real Christmas tree is a beautiful experience. Following these tips, tricks, and precautions when caring for your tree can help keep it alive and beautiful even longer before taking it down.

Check out the National Christmas Tree Association for more information about Christmas trees.

Happy holidays!

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