Friday, December 19, 2008

More tree questions - including odors

From: Elpisnrev
Sent: Friday, December 19, 2008 7:26 AM
Subject: Blog Talk Ideas
Christmas tree water starting to smell foul:

I see that I am not the only person who has a problem with a foul smell from the water after a week or so. It's rather pungent, to the point where I have looked to see if someone has thrown up behind my sofa cushions.....
I have noticed that this is the same smell from pine sawdust that has gotten wet and been covered for a small amount of time. I think it's just the natural bacteria in the tree fiber that gets into the water, that is kept at room temperature and VIOLA! have a christmas petri dish.

I cleaned out the water with a turkey baster, put in a smaller amount of fresh water (tree doesn't seem to absorb as much now) and added a little peppermint oil. I should have gotten pine oil though....

That has worked for the last week.

Happy Holidays,


Siple, MI

Hello Vernon.

You know, it's an interesting phenomenon, how I get that question each year. I'm still convinced it's not that common, but I guess when it happens, it's something that moves people to take action and they do some internet searching and once they find our site, write in a question about it. I've never personally experienced it, so I can't completely get a handle on it. I know you didn't put anything in your tree's water, but I know that's a very common culprit once people explain in an email that they put stuff in their water. One time -- I'm not making this up -- a lady told me she had taken a whole tree feeding spike, the kind you push into the ground near a tree to release nitrogen in the soil around it's roots, and crushed it up and put in the tree stand with the water. Well, needless to say, her water stink, stank, stunk.

I also had a lady write to say that her tree smelled like fish. ???? She thought at first it was because she was pregnant, but then her husband said he smelled it too and since he's not pregnant, that couldn't be the cause.

You may have a point about naturally occurring bacteria, but I would think if that was the case it would be more common. If it was more common, I wouldn't think 32 million families would enjoy a farm-grown tree each year.

I dunno I said, I've never experienced a foul smell coming from any Christmas tree I've ever had, so I can't quite put my finger on it. Interesting idea on the peppermint oil. I think you can also put a little baking soda in the water if it really does smell bad. It will neutralize odor (just like the box in the fridge does) and as a base, it won't harm the plant tissue of the tree. One thing I always do -- and I should add this to our tips section -- is I take my stand outside and hose it out good both before putting my tree up and after I take it down before storing it with the other decorations. I think this helps get rid of dust, dirt, needles and maybe any bacteria like you mentioned.

Merry Christmas!

Sent: Saturday, December 13, 2008 7:46 PM
Subject: FAQ Addition
We have noticed a sudden odor that seems to be coming from the tree. It is not coming from the water base as we were suspecting. What could it be?

What species of tree is it Maria? Crush/split open a few needles between your fingers and see if that releases an "evergreen" scent...unless it is a White Spruce, which has a distinctive odor most people would describe as unpleasant.

From: Maria
Sent: Monday, December 15, 2008 1:50 PM
To: Rick Dungey
Subject: Re: RE: FAQ Addition

The only information I could get on the tree was it is a balsam tree from New Brunswick. Same place, same supplier I always get my tree from. One site online mentioned some trees are sprayed with fox urine, ? to deter deer or other tree eating animals? It actually does smell like the dogs went on the carpet, but there is no carpet in the room.
Crushed the needles. Definately evergreen smell but not the typical fragrance of a xmas tree. If you can shed any light on the mystery, thanks. If not, thanks for your efforts and email reply. I think the tree is going on the porch either way.
Merry Christmas,

Deer deterrent such as animal urine, when used, are typically applied to the ground around a field, not directly on a Christmas tree right before harvest. I wouldn't consider that a culprit. Now, that doesn't mean that some actual animal didn't soil that tree while it was growing in the field, but it would have had to be right before it was harvested I would think and among all the thousands of trees in a field ...I'd call that a very remote possibility.

It's more likely dirt, moisture and such. And I know you said it wasn't coming from the water in the stand but that is most often the culprit of a foul odor I've found over the years of answering questions about trees. Did you add anything to the water?

From: Maria
Sent: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 6:53 AM
To: Rick Dungey
Subject: Re:FAQ Addition
Hi Rick,

Thanks so much for the information. No, I did not add anything to the water. I feel much better knowing that some foul animal chemical was not sprayed on the tree. Should I try baking soda in the water as another blogger suggested? So far I have not done anything except spray Lysol, open the windows & bother you. I am very close to putting the tree on the porch outside against the kids wishes.

Thanks again,

first of all, you're not bothering me ...this is what I do

I recommend baking soda in the water to people who have put something in the water that is making it stinky. I'm not making this time a lady wrote to me and said she had taken a whole evergreen feeding spike, the kind you push into the ground near a tree's roots so it gets nitrogen all year, and crushed it and put it in the tree's water stand. Ugghhhhh. But, since you didn't put anything in the water, I don't think it's the culprit and baking soda wouldn't help.

When you say it is not a "typical fragrance of a Christmas tree" when you crushed the needles, that actually makes me think it is not a Balsam fir. Because...well, to probably 96.3% of the population, you couldn't get a MORE christmas tree type smell than crushed Balsam needles. I suspect it might actually be a White Spruce, which many people say has a disagreeable odor when the needles are crushed. It's very similar in appearance to a Balsam, so many people coudn't tell the difference.

If that is not the case, then my money is on something inside the foliage of the tree which is wet and maybe a bird's nest or a bunch of leaves or some other kind of organic matter.

Hello again Rick,

I think you hit the nail on the head. It must be a white spruce. The tree does not look any different than the ones we have had in the past but I am not the most observant. Will have my husband look at the link you sent and see what he thinks later.
The odor is not as bad as last week. I think I looked the tree over pretty well and I don't think anything is decomposing in it. That is unless a little mouse has drowned in the base and I can't see it. That might explain the strong odor that started abruptly and is slowly dissipating. All that being said, we don't usually have mice.
Now that the smell had eased up, I am not tossing the tree. Besides, the kids get bummed out when I mention it.
Thanks for the tips. I won't put anything in the water. If we don't put the lights on for too long the scent is less noticeable.
I will definately email you the day after xmas when we dismantle the tree if we find any evidence of decomp or anything else unusual.

Merry Christmas!

and a watering question

From: Victoria
Sent: Monday, December 15, 2008 6:15 PM
Subject: Tree wilted overnight

We live in Northern California.
We picked up a 7-foot Noble Fir at our local Home Depot. It smelled good, was very green and still wet inside, most likely from being on the truck. We tested the branches. Bent kneedles. All good. No loss or breakage.
When we got home we made a fresh straight cut and immediately put the tree in the stand in the water. 36 hours later the branches are all wilted and facing down. Is there anything we can do to perk it back up?

I’m very worried it died. Which would suck because it is fully decorated already.


Is the tree absorbing water from the stand Victoria? What is the outside temperature lately where you live?

From: Victoria Holl []
Sent: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 12:12 PM
To: Rick Dungey
Subject: RE: Tree wilted overnight
Hi Rick,
The tree does seem to be absorbing water. An inch or so a day is gone from the stand.
Our days have been in the low 60s and our nights in the 40s. My husband is the total heat miser so our heater is almost never on.

Hmm...well, that's unusual to say the least. I'm encouraged that it does seem to be absorbing water, albeit slowly. But variations in the rate of water absorption is normal, and with you keeping your home cooler than typical that will slow down the rate at which the tree loses moisture.

Was there anything applied to the tree?

If a tree was overly-dry to begin with, you would be able to tell that at the lot, and from what you describe it doesn't seem that way. Also, a tree past what we call the "point of no return" wouldn't be absorbing any water at all.

Exposure to short extremes of heat or cold can cause the foliage to "burn" changing it's appearance. One of the most common examples of this is people who haul their tree home in the bed of a pick up truck. The truck's exhaust heats that surface area and when people get their tree home later they notice that one side of it looks like it was burned. The other common example in colder areas, is someone laying their tree on frozen concrete for a while...that can cause "burning" of the foliage as well.

If you don't think the tree was exposed to any short temperature extremes or or any other external material (hopefully you did apply any fire retardant to it), then I would say just keep tabs on whether it is still absorbing water. Trees are in a state of dormancy when they are harvested, and sometimes it can take a while for that condition to reverse as the tree warms and absorbs water.


Anonymous said...

Have had trouble finding other sites that mention this problem, but this is the 3rd year the water in our stand reeks like dog poo or vomit or something vile. We've sucked it out and replace with fresh and it goes about 4 days before we're looking for the 'accident' again. No additive added to water and we cleaned the stand this year trying to prevent last years misery. We are fanatic "live" Christmas tree fans,but may have to go fake it I can't figure this out. Help! ps Last two trees were Noble, one before was a Douglas fir.

Rick Dungey said...

It's a mystery to me Anonymous. I doubt that species would have anything to do with it, but I'm beginning to wonder if tap water in some locales has any impact. No two locations have identical tap water.

One way to find out is to buy 2-3 jugs of distilled water next year and use that in the tree stand. They're cheap...under a dollar I think.

I wish I could experience this first hand so I would have more insight. Maybe I'll look to get an organic chemistry person to provide some insight this year.

Anonymous said...

Hi, my Christmas also smells very badly like poo..stand was cleaned..nothing added to the water..I thought it was my imagination at first..I thought it would go away after being up all this am I thought I was going to be sick, the whole house there anything I can do?? It is all decorated....

Anonymous said...

We've had live Christmas trees for the last 7 years, and this is the first time the water has reeked. We are going to add baking soda (we weren't sure if basic or acidic was the way to go), so thanks. And, we haven't added anything up until now.

Anonymous said...

I have had the same problem with Christmas tree water smelling foul fro two years & I just realized while reading this blog that this year and last year we have put sugar in the tree's water because we were advised to by someone. I think that's the culprit. I will drain the water with a turkey baster, use fresh water & hope for the best.

Anonymous said...

We are dealing with the nastiest mold in a tree stand you can possibly imagine. Our house house reeks! It is truly vile! The mold is also on the truck of the tree. We have used a tree baster to suck the moldy water out. We have sprayed the tree and the stand with hydrogen peroxide, about to scrub the stand with bleach water, use the baster again and use fresh bleach water, lemon juice and Epsom salts to try to keep things under control. Hope it works. I read all I can on dealing with the problem.

I agree with a previous poster about the sugar being the culprit. I used brown sugar on a tree where the water had run out. I think the tree wasn't absorbing. The combination of stagnant sugar water in our warm SC climate made the mold take hold and grow out of control.

I wish I could post a picture on here. You wouldn't believe your eyes how nasty it was.

Kris J said...

We've never had this problem before ans a week ago i thought i was losing my mind but my tree smells like poo- animal poo.ive fully inspected it and found nothing. I did put sugar in the water when we got it home but not since then. Im gonna try the baking soda...i mentioned takung it down and my tired husband does not want to dothat. Gonna try to tough it out another weeek... Its almost as if its only coming fromone side???

Anonymous said...

This is the second year that I am dealing with a live tree that smells foul. Last year I put sugar in the water, so I did not do that again. Seems like the tree this year has not been absorbing the water. I used a turkey baster to get the water out last was black. I haven't put any new water in yet, and I'm curious if anyone had any luck with the baking soda, epson salt, hydrogen peroxide attempts mentioned in previous posts. We have guests arriving for Christmas and our house reeks!

Anonymous said...

We are having the same issue our tree is far past dead, an mostly sticks normally our tree lasts till New Year now we are struggling to get it to Christmas! Its not absorbing water like I have seen in past years. I put clove oil (about 6.00 at any grocery store) and its greatly improving the smell of the tree water. Im glad to know Im not the only person with tree issues this year!

Anonymous said...

Our tree water also is stinky- rancid like poo, vomit, garbage, something...we didn't clean the stand, but have never had the problem before. I did use sugar water this year and think that was a mistake. It just stopped drinking after a week, and I put bleach in after I couldn't take the smell anymore. I can't see if it is moldy or not. I will try baking soda next since I do not have a turkey baster and we are expecting company. What a drag! The smell is nauseating.

Anonymous said...

I have had a terrible dog poo smell from my tree stand the point that we were talking about "un-inviting" our family for christmas dinner. I Looked every where for the smell before i climbed under tree and sniffed the tree stand...and gagged.

I used wet and dry vac to suck out water and added plain, clean very warm water back to the stand, and the smell is noticably gone. I have not added anything at all to the tree but if need be, i will just vac the water back out in couple days and put in fresh. As this is the first time I had had such an issue, i was rather relieved that I was not first. Merry Christmas to all!!

Anonymous said...

We bought a Noble Fir a couple weeks ago and at first I thought it smelled good, but lately it has an extremely strong "tree" odor. It's not like it smells bad, necessarily, just very, very, very strong. Strong enough that it is making me sick. We are taking the tree down this evening, because I can't even stand to the be in the house. I have a very powerful sense of smell, but this is the first live tree that I've ever had this happen around. First time we have ever gotten a Noble Fir too. We usually get Fraser Fir.

Anonymous said...

We had a "smoke" incident in our house last week. I was making pulled pork on my stove top, and I forgot to turn the stove down - went out for a couple of hours, and my entire house filled with smoke. We had to have the house professionally cleaned by a smoke restoration company, and we will have to have the entire house painted. In the meantime, even now after the house has been cleaned, I am smelling the smoke in my family room, and I cannot figure out where it is coming from. Is it possible that my Christmas Tree (a Frasier Fir), absorbed the smell of the somke somehow? I am wondering if it would be helpful to trade it out for a fresh tree this weekend!
Thank you!

Rick Dungey said...

I noticed one year that my tree stand had become quite…umm, icky. Probably from previous years’ use and being stored in the basement for 11 months. I don’t know that it would make the water smell like vomit, but it was icky enough to prompt me to make it a part of my S.O.P each year to wash it out right before before putting the tree up.

There must be something biologically going on in some of these cases because how else would water, which has no odor at all, suddenly smell bad? Some people recommend adding bleach to the tree’s water, but that is a very strong base and can adversely affect the plant tissue of the tree itself. I would recommend instead dissolving some baking soda in the tree’s water. That also is a base, but much less likely to hurt the tree. It works in the fridge and freezer, so it might help in this case. I would also strongly recommend after Christmas this year, when you take your tree down, give the stand a thorough cleaning before storing for the year.

As for the smoke incident...that's somewhat out of my realm of expertise. I would guess that cloth (the skirt maybe? or stockings?) would be more likely to harbor that than a plant. Again, I'm not an expert on odor molecules, but I don't think that wood and foliage can "absorb" smoke.

Anonymous said...

I have the same problem with my tree...the water smells like poo. I just added a few drops of tea tree oil & a little alcohol & a bit of Epsom salt. Hoping it will be successful.

Lesler Stephenson said...

My frasier fir smells of dog urine...the tree was very likely fresh....but it smells like dog urine...what to do?

Anonymous said...

I posting this here in case anyone searches for a My Christmas Tree Smells Bad post. I was certain that my Christmas tree had a bad odor. I did use sugar water to start the tree. Long story short: the tree did not smell, the towel I had under the tree got wet and awfully stinky. If you think your tree smells, check your tree skirt or whatever you may have under your tree.