Saturday, December 6, 2008

A very common tree question about water uptake

Maria had a very common question about her tree.

From: Maria
Sent: Saturday, December 06, 2008 12:27 AM
Subject: Blog Talk Ideas
I'm getting nervous!

We purchased our tree this past Wednesday, December 2. It's a white spruce. We made a fresh cut on the bottom before we put it in the stand, taking off about 3 inches. We also trimmed the top off, to make the tree fit in our living room. Then I filled the stand with warm water and a few tablespoons of standard, generic tree preservation liquid.

Within a few hours, the tree lapped up about half of the water in the stand.

Since then----this is 3 days later----it has drunk virtually nothing at all. There is also no scent at all coming from the tree (and there never was any real scent, not even on the first day).

I put the lights on today and absolutely must trim it fully tomorrow: My eldest son is arriving on Monday, December 8, for a few days (that will be his "home for Christmas " time).

However, after he leaves, we still have weeks to go until Chritmas (and the arrival of two other sons!) and I am worried that the tree won't make it through the holidays. I am thinking of stripping the tree of the lights, tossing it out, and rushing out tomorrow to try and get another tree....but the very idea makes me feel weak with stress! What do you think?

Thank you for your advice....

Hello Maria.

First, let me just say up front, I wouldn't be concerned. You haven't told me anything that indicates the tree will not absorb water as the season goes on. You did everything right by making a fresh cut and getting in a water stand right away. The fact that it did absorb water initially tells me that the plant tissue which absorbs water molecules is open and the tree will absorb more as it loses moisture through transpiration.

The rate at which this process happens is never uniform or consistent. Fluctuations are normal. For example, 2 years ago my tree sucked up about a gallon of water in the first 4 hours of getting inside in the stand...I could practically hear a sound like a sponge absorbing water. Then it didn't take up any more water again for about 3 days. Again, this is normal. Last year my tree -- same species -- didn't absorb hardly any water at all the first 2 days, then "switched on" and sucked up about a half gallon per day for the next 4 days. It really does vary like that. I just got my tree for this year last night, but won't put it up until tonight...I can't wait to see how it does this year.

My recommendation based on what you've told me is that it's OK to go ahead and trim it out fully. Add water to the stand once or even twice per day, even if it's only a little low. I say this because it would not be surprising at all for the tree to suddenly absorb a LOT of water in a short period of time and you want the stand full as often as possible so it doesn't run dry. No need to add anything to the water. If you place the tree away from places that will speed up moisture loss, it won't need to absorb water as quickly.

Now, on the scent....I always hesitate to talk much about scent, because the sense of smell is subjective and everyone is different. For example, when people ask me "what type of tree smells the best?" I don't touch that with a 10 foot pole; because what smells good to me may not to the next person. However, the White Spruce, while being a very pretty tree with excellent needle retention, is generally described as a tree which does not produce a good "Christmas tree aroma". In fact, many people describe an unpleasant odor when the needles are crushed. Every species has a different chemical composition of the pitch contained in the foliage, and the pitch is what produces aroma. Read more about the White Spruce here . I've smelled them before, and I wouldn't really describe it as having a "skunky" smell...I would say it "smells like the woods." But, like I said, sense of smell is different for everyone.

Go ahead and have a tree decorating party with your family and enjoy the beauty of a farm-grown Christmas Tree. Don't forget to recycle it after the holidays.

Merry Christmas!

Dear Rick,

Thank you SO MUCH for the extensive and knowledgeble advice! You really calmed me down! Everything you said made so much sense--- I believe you! Hence, the tree (which is really lovely, but has no scent at all, 'skunky', 'woodsy' or otherwise) will be with us all for this Christmas here in Amsterdam, NY.....and happily decorated this evening. 'O Tannebaum', indeed!

The Christmas Tree has always been the focal part of my family's Christmas. I could tell, you detected my nervousness, as the arrival of Son #1 approaches. I really am so grateful for your expertise, and will proceed with confidence.

Have a wonderful and blessed Christmas. I hope your tree behaves itself.

with sincere thanks,


Anonymous said...

We had the tree in the stand for 36 hours to let it warm up then remembered we had to cut the end off to give it a fresh base. Question is will the tree open up anymore now that the base has been cut even though it has been inside for 36 hours already. Its me and my fiance's first real tree together so we are a bit clueless. Thanks

Erin WI

Rick Dungey said...

Every tree is different, and without know the species, location it was grown, etc. it's hard to say for sure how much yours will relax farther. It's highly likely the branches will relax farther once the tree absorbs water. My tree took about 3 days before it was done "adjusting itself" so to speak and now it's in perfect shape.

Shelley said...

I think the aroma-less tree problem is very REAL. It's been bothering me for weeks. I blogged about it here:

The latest comment there confirms that I'm not imagining things! I'd love to know your thoughts, Rick.