7 ways to extend your Christmas tree’s life (and how best to recycle it!)

xmas tree

'Tis the season — for caring for unrooted evergreens.

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Trees are 90 percent air.

Unless they’re decorated with shiny ornaments.

In which case, you’re probably not whacking balls through them. Which is good, because there are tons of them. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, 25 to 30 million Christmas trees are sold in this country every year.

Maybe you’ve got one in your living room.

Maybe, like the holidays, you’d like to make it last.

John C. Fech is a horticulturist and educator with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who is also a frequent contributor to Golf Course Management, the magazine of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.

We asked him for tips on keeping Christmas trees healthy through the festive season and beyond.

1. Buy a healthy one to begin with

Okay, we’re a bit late with this tip, but save it in your stocking for next year. When you’re checking out a tree, give it a little shake. Evergreens do lots of natural shedding, so you can expect plenty of needles to fall. But many of those needles should be brown or discolored. If tons of green needles drop, you should probably keep shopping, Fech says. An even clearer test is to grab the tree near the top and give it a little twist. “If it bends, you’re golden,” Fech says. “If it snaps, that’s a sign it was cut down a long time ago.”

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2. Saw an inch of the bottom

Deciduous trees don’t make resin. But evergreens do. That resin, Fech says, can clog up a tree’s vessels. For that reason, as soon as you get your tree home, use a bow saw to cut off an inch at the bottom (some Christmas tree lots will do this job for you), then plunge it into a bucket of warm water (warm water will flow more easily than cold water through any lingering resin) so the tree can drink.

3. Wet its whistle

Like certain holiday guests, Christmas trees do a lot of drinking. Keep yours properly hydrated by making sure it’s always standing in about a gallon of water. After that initial drink, the water your tree gets should be cool, not warm.

4. Don’t let it get drafty

Cold drafts from doorways and hot blasts from heating vents can dry out your tree. Keep yours away from both.

5. Beware misinformation

You might have heard it said that adding aspirin, pennies or sugar to Christmas tree water can prolong a tree’s life. “That’s a myth,” says Fech, who notes that research by the University of Nebraska has found that those items provide no benefit to tree; there is even some evidence that they can be harmful. If you add anything to the water, Fech says, you might consider a drop of bleach, which can kill off unwanted bacteria.

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6. Stay safe

Your own health, and the health of others in your home, is more important than the health of your tree. Never decorate yours with fire hazards such as candles or heat-producing lights.

7. Recycle

Trees are the gift that keep on giving. Many municipalities have curbside pickup programs that turn old Christmas trees to mulch, which gets used as trail cover or in parks and fields. If you know your way around a woodchipper, you can mulch the tree yourself. Evergreen boughs also make great cover for any number of perennial plantings. You can clip or cut the branches and put them to good use in your yard.

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Josh Sens

Golf.com Editor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.