Saturday, December 19, 2009

almost there!

Less than a week to go until Christmas and people are still buying trees. We've heard from some folks who have a specific number of days before Christmas when they put up their tree to decorate. We know others are waiting for family members to come home before trimming their tree.

Many people though have already put up their tree and have been asking some common, and some not so common questions. Here's a sampling with my answers in BLUE.

From: jim busche
Sent: Sunday, December 13, 2009 11:34 PM
Subject: Blog Talk Ideas - Scots pine question.

I have a question about our Scots pine that we cut from the lot on Nov 29th. Initially, I'd top it's water up everyday and it seemed to be drinking. These past two nights the water level hasn't changed and I'm worried that there's something wrong with it, the water in the stand smells pretty stagnant too. I wonder if I should change the water? It not near any heat sources, or anything like that. Is this normal? It's not a huge tree, maybe 6ft total. Thanks!

The rate of water absorption will vary throughout the time it is displayed. Some days it will absorb a lot, some days not so much. This is normal.

From: Anne
Sent: Friday, December 18, 2009 4:57 PM
Subject: Christmas Tree Question


I have heard ( but with no follow up info) that there is a type of Christmas Tree that reples cats. Something about the smell they do not like but I have no other information.
Have you heard of such a thing ??

While I make no claims to know anything about how cat’s sense of smell works, I think that’s an urban legend. However, I have had people tell me that if they have cats prone to climb in the Christmas tree, then they only need to have a Blue Spruce one year and that takes care of the problem. This comes about because a Blue Spruce has very sharp, prickly needles and a cat will learn to associate climbing the Christmas tree with ….well, sharp prickly needles.

From: Angie Redd
Sent: Sunday, December 13, 2009 6:10 PM
Subject: Christmas Tree Question


We cut down a Canaan Fir the day after Thanksgiving this year and put it in water within an hour and a half after we got home. We did not cut off any more after bringing it home. Over this last week there were a couple of days that we forgot to put water in it, I don't think that it was completely empty (although I am not completely positive because it is dark under there and hard to see). Since I put water in it a couple days ago it is not really soaking up any. The tree is starting to lose more needles than the Canaan Firs we have had in the past at this point in the season, especially on the lower limbs. Although on the rest of the tree it is not losing an exorbitant amount. There are branches that I run my fingers down and no needles fall off. I am wondering if there is anything that we can do to help it to take up water again with still having almost two weeks until Christmas. Also is it a great fire hazard to have the lights on with it getting more dry at this point?

Thanks so much for your help. I was excited when I found your website and look forward to browsing through it.

The rate of water absorption will vary. Some days it will be a lot, some days not so much. I think it’s fine from what you describe.

If your light set is less than about 15 years old and rated for indoor use, there is no way they emit enough heat to catch anything on fire, especially a plant full of moisture. A couple years ago on the show “Myth Busters” on the Discovery Channel, they took a tree and ran it in a kiln dryer. It became utterly devoid of any moisture (way more than could possibly happen in a tree displayed in water in your home for 4 weeks). Then they strung about 400 strands of lights on it…it was drawing 10 times more electricity than the average 2500 square foot home. They filmed it through a heat sensitive camera, and while you could see heat rising off this tree like a river current, it still couldn’t light any of the tree on fire. It was fascinating.

From: Mark K.
Sent: Tuesday, December 15, 2009 3:42 PM
Subject: christmas tree question


Is there a nationwide list of organizations that help to plant live trees after the holidays?

Christmas tree farms will be planting 40 – 45 million new trees in the U.S. alone. There are about 350,000 acres in the U.S. planted in conifers for the cut Christmas tree market, growing close to half a billion trees.

Do you want to be a Christmas tree farmer? I’m sure any area farm would love it if you wanted to volunteer to help with planting next spring.

Hello Rick,

Thank you for your quick response. I was talking about live, potted trees to be replanted after Christmas is over.

I am looking for information on nationwide organizations like this one that organize plantings of donated, live Christmas trees.

Hmmm…not that I know of, but I would start with your local parks department. They probably manage the most open / green space in metropolitan areas. Or you could ask the farm / nursery selling the potted tree who some of their customers are …I’m sure they’d love a donated tree.

From: steelerjk
Sent: Wednesday, December 16, 2009 12:45 AM
To: undisclosed-recipients
Subject: Water

I cut down a fresh tree on Dec. 5 and it consumed a lot of water the first 9 days and now has slowed down to very little. Is this normal and will my tree make it until January 1st?

That’s normal. The rate of water absorption will vary…some days it will be a lot, some days not so much. Just check and fill the stand every day even if it only needs a little additional water.

From: bjp78@
Sent: Wednesday, December 16, 2009 7:58 PM
Subject: crackling christmas tree

I have been reading about people and their crackling trees and I too have the same thing happening to my tree. My husband wonders if it could be the pine cones opening up? Our tree has a lot of pine cones on it and he says maybe as the tree is absorbing water the pine cones are opening up causing the crackling noises.

I had that question a couple years ago. I asked some of the plant pathologists and they said it was all of the tree’s plant tissue warming, softening and absorbing moisture. They said it was normal and wouldn’t impact the needle retention or moisture uptake of the tree.

From: jonathan bowden
Sent: Thursday, December 17, 2009 9:04 PM
Subject: Another tree question

First, thanks for all the help you provide people by answering these's really great. Simple it bad for old dead needles to get into the water in the stand? My tree has been great and absorbed plenty of water for the first two weeks but now it seems to be almost stopped at the end of the third week. The only odd thing i did was not clear out a few handfuls of dead needles that fell into stand when i put up the tree.

Nah -- old, fallen needles in the stand won't bother the tree. The plant tissue absorbs water at a molecular level anyway so floating needle debris can't impact that process. I do recommend that after Christmas, washing out the stand before storing until next year. That way you don't have decaying organic matter in the stand for 11 months.

From: Bill Campbell
Sent: Friday, December 18, 2009 9:49 AM
Subject: Condos

Hey Rick!

The condo I live in recently created a bylaw banning live Christmas Trees claiming a fire hazard (I live in a 16 story concrete building).

Do you have any data on fires and Christmas Trees?

Do you have any data on the legality of Strata Councils banning Christmas trees?

Here’s our main safety facts page . Unfortunately, no matter how frustrated I feel that this has happened to you, I can’t possibly advise you on legalities involved. The only general statement I can make is that a condo / owners association can make whatever rules they want as they are a private enterprise. However, I can tell you that no model fire code, neither the International Fire Code or the National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA -1, prohibit cut trees from being displayed in individual units of multi-unit residential dwellings. In other words, if they cop the excuse to you that “oh, it’s against the fire code” you can tell them that’s plain wrong.

Great questions....keep them coming. We'll answer all emails up until Christmas Day. Don't forget to find out about your local tree recycling program. If you live where they have curb side pick up, make sure you know which days you can set the tree out for recycling. If you're like me, you may have to take your tree to a drop off location. Some tips to make it easier: grab an old blanket or sheet or if you have a removal bag, that's great too. Lift the tree vertically and carry outside. Try to let the water level in the stand go down -- that's the ONLY time you'll see that recommendation, but it's to prevent any spillage. Once outside, lay the tree down on it's side on top of the old blanket. Remove the stand, then simply roll it up in the blanket and put in or on your vehicle to transport down to the drop off location. For me, the whole process takes about 30 minutes. That's an easy task to do for a good environmental cause. Tree are 100% biodegradable and recycling programs help in many ways.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

ah, the "environment"

I wanted to post a blog based on a conversation / interview I had yesterday with a reporter. I was asked, "Since the conference on global warming is taking place, my editor wanted to know what your take on Christmas trees and global warming is."

Now, ignoring the obvious irony involved here as I sit in an airport delayed by the massive snow storm pounding the eastern half of the country, I have my own personal views on the topic of "global warming." But I keep those to myself and simply replied that the topic of global warming is not pertinent to Christmas trees specifically, at least when comes to choosing a fake one or a farm-grown one.

But in general, the environment is a topic of interest and importance to consumers. And in my mind, there really is no debate about which is better for the environment. From hybrid vehicles to water-saving toilets, many companies are trying to capture the interest of the environmentally conscious consumer. The Real Christmas Tree industry has it easy – our product has always been the environmental choice. The question is – do consumers know this?

In the fight for market share against artificial trees, the environmental issue is one where the real Christmas tree industry has the upper hand, but it’s up to us to make sure this message is heard and it’s been an uphill battle.

While they’re growing, Real Christmas Trees absorb carbon dioxide and other gases and emit fresh oxygen. They are grown on farms just like any crop. Christmas tree farmers plant new seedlings every spring to replace those harvested. In 2009, an estimated 42 million new trees were planted by Christmas Tree farmers. There are close to 350 million trees growing on tree farms in the U.S. alone. These trees would not exist if not planted by Christmas tree farmers. Christmas trees stabilize the soil, prevent run-off erosion, preserve green spaces and support complex eco-systems. And of course, since they are 100% biodegradable, farm-grown Christmas trees can be easily recycled, whereas fake trees can not.

What about the fake tree? Isn’t it better for the environment if you use something over and over? Artificial trees are a petroleum-based product manufactured primarily in Chinese factories. The average family uses a fake tree for only six to nine years before throwing it away, where it will remain in a landfill indefinitely. The polyvinyl chloride (PVC) used in most artificial trees has been boycotted by many environmental groups.

Is the environment really that big a factor in consumers’ decisions? Yes, research shows that consumers are getting more and more eco-conscious when choosing products. Even if consumers do not recognize the environment as one of the factors in their decision, it is important that the correct facts about Christmas trees are out there.

Does anyone really still believe that Christmas Trees come from forests? Yes, unfortunately some do. Ironically, many ads for fake trees include a selling point that they come in a sturdy cardboard box, while claiming you are “saving a tree” by using a plastic one. They don’t mention where the cardboard comes from, but consumers are smart enough to see this duplicity. Those in the business of farming and selling real Christmas trees have made great strides in recent years in breaking down the myths surrounding real Christmas trees. Visit to learn more.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Common Questions

First, thanks to everyone who has taken our online Christmas Tree survey. If you'd like to participate and see the survey results, go to the front page of the NCTA web site

This is the week when we start seeing tons of questions from Christmas tree lovers and many of them are quite common. Maybe you or someone you know has the same question? Anyway, below is a sampling from this week with my answers in BLUE.

From: M.K.
Sent: Tuesday, December 01, 2009 4:49 AM
Subject: Blog Talk Ideas

We bought our Christmas tree two daysago. A fresh cut was made, and we did get it in the w ater within 4 hours. We did notice a slight split in the trunk but it did not appear deep, less than 1/8 of an inch?

Anyway I used the preservative from th nursery.

The next day it drank hardly any water , maybe 1 inch, and now today the same.

We have not decorated the tree as yet as we normally wait a day or so to let the limbs fall a bit.

Is there anything I can do , or will this be a problem. ?

Thank you,


I would give it some time. Trees have been dormant for months so it can take a while for the warm air in your home to “wake up” the plant tissue. If you got the trunk in water within 4 hours of making a fresh cut and it has not been exposed to air since, then the tree will start absorbing water once it begins losing moisture. Plain tap water is fine, so just keep the stand full as much as possible, because its common for a tree to absorb a LOT of water quickly in a short period of time.

From: al akt
Sent: Monday, November 30, 2009 9:00 PM
To: info@realchristmastrees.orgS
ubject: christmas tree smell, douglas fir?

Hello, my question is regarding the smell or lack of smell. My family and I went to Christmas tree farm on two days ago and chopped our own douglas fir, approx 6 1/2 feet and since bringing it home I cut about 1/2 inch off the base and trimmed some bottom branches then placed it in the stand and immediatly watered the tree but still do not have a smell. Why is this? I've gotten a tree from a douglas fir from a tree lot before that had much more smell than this fresh cut one. any suggestions?

thank you,A.Akturk

From: al akt
Sent: Monday, November 30, 2009 9:08 PM
Subject: christmas tree smell, douglas fir?

2nd email, I forgot to add that the tree is drinking plenty of water, about a 1/2 gallon a day so far. thanks again.

Give it some time. The added moisture in the plant tissue from the water it's absorbing will boost it's scent. But sense of smell is very subjective and trees are each genetically unique. Try to snap or crush a few needles on the interior and that should release some aroma.

From: petec

Sent: Tuesday, December 01, 2009 9:22 PM


Subject: saving a tree


Stumbled upon your site after searching some articles at the weather channel. My question is a simple one and maybe even laughable but I have to know. I know that Christmas trees are just like any other tree but every year after Christmas you see hundreds of them stacked up about to be mulched and that's okay but here's my question. After the tree has been cut and used, is there anyway to "save the tree"? Is there anyway to "pot" the tree that would encourage root growth and development?

thanks for your time,


No, not once it’s cut at the trunk. But fret not, because the farmer who planted the tree in the first place and grew it to that height will plant another in it’s place this Spring. And that mulch made from harvested trees returns nutrients back to earth in a quick fashion. All plants eventually die and decompose, that’s a life cycle.

From: ryansmommy

Sent: Wednesday, December 02, 2009 1:28 AM


Subject: CHristmas Tree Question


I found somewhat of an answer under your FAQ section however, I need to be sure of my answer. I just purchased and put up my christmas tree in my home. After putting it up I found 2 large hairy black spiders wandering about my home. I didn't think much of it. Now I have decorated the tree with lights and bows and have found several very very tiny spiders in the tree, ecspecially at the very tippy top. They seem to be jumping as well. What should I do with my tree? I have vacumed as you have said to do in your FAQ section. I am worried they will grow, multiply, or take over. Is this possible? Should I get rid of the tree?

Thanks Melissa!

I’m not an expert on spiders. Assuming they came with the tree and not with the decorations out of storage, I would just try some ordinary bug spray.

From: Jim C.

Sent: Wednesday, December 02, 2009 12:31 PM


Subject: Info

Question for you, is it better to get a cut tree early and put in water for a week or two before bringing in the house or just wait until we want to put it up to purchase? Thinking it might be better to store in water then let it sit on a lot for 2 more weeks.


Chicago, IL

In your neck of the woods, it wouldn’t matter much. Many lots get multiple shipments throughout the 3-4 week sales season anyway. If you buy a tree later, just do the freshness test. Dry, brittle trees are easy to spot if you check.

From: Matilda
Sent: Thursday, December 03, 2009 8:39 AM
Subject: Christmas tree problem?

My husband and I have always had a real tree for Christmas. We've been getting one for about 20 years now. The tree we got this year produced a foamy residue in the top of the water, it resembled a meringue texture. When my husband went to scoop out the foam it released a horrible smell like someone had vomited in it. The tree has not drank any water except for 1/2 cup since Nov. 27. We called the tree place where we had cut the tree, and they said they have never heard of anything like this. They offered us to come back and get another tree. Would you have any idea what could have caused this. We cut a pine.


Sap most likely. I wouldn’t worry about the rate of water absorption so far. The tree has been dormant for some months and will start to take up more water the longer it’s inside the warm home. The rate will vary throughout the weeks its displayed, this is normal. If the water currently in there is gunky and foul, remove it with a turkey baster or shop vac and fill the stand back up with fresh water. You can add a little baking soda to eliminate any odors.

From: iris
Sent: Thursday, December 03, 2009 11:01 PM
Subject: Christmas Tree Question

Hello. My husband and I recently moved to Southwest Florida, where going out to a tree farm isn't an option. We went to Lowes and bought a Fraizer Fur there. It does have that nice Christmas tree smell, but it also smells like fish. I noticed it the minute we brought it in the door, so it can't be the water as I read in one of your earlier blog posts. Are the trees shipped down here on boats? It just smells like the ocean--not exactly what I was expecting. Is there anything that can be done about it?
Thank you very much.

First, check the full Florida list in our database and the list at the Florida CTA . There might be a farm close enough.
Second, any tree from North Carolina going to your area would not go by cargo boat and even if it did, cargo boats are quite different from fishing boats. There's no way that's the culprit.
My first guess is that there's moisture on the tree and so the odor may be a mildew kind of thing. It may have been raining when the tree was harvested, the trees loaded onto the freight truck may have been all wet when bailed and packed just may have not had time to dry out. Now, I understand what you're saying about the odor, but for what it's worth, those conditions are good for the condition of the tree itself.

I always recommend that the tree be shaken or thumped on the ground forcefully before bringing inside. That can remove access water, old needles, dust, debris, etc. etc. Is it decorated yet? If not, can you take it outside and give it a good shake? Otherwise, I would not have much more of a common sense suggestion.

From: jt brinsky
Sent: Friday, December 04, 2009 8:05 PM
Subject: Tree questions

I bought an 8 foot fraser fir last Saturday from their previous cut stock. When I cut my 1/2 inch from bottom the trunk split about 6 inches or so. I put it in the stand and it is taking some water. Took about 32 ounces today. Has taken about that for most of the week. It looks very fresh, smells good and can't pull needles off the top branches. But if you shake the tree a lot of needles fall off. Could it be from the lower branches where it was split. Should I have taken it back. I still haven't put an lights on it, sicne I am afraid it is going to dry out.

Fraser Fir does split more than other species. It does not effect the ability of the tree to take up water through a fresh cut. The reason for the trunk to split is the field conditions prior to harvest. You indicate it has already absorbed a lot of water in the first few days, ½ gallon each day …I think it’s fine. Trees do shed older needles naturally, this is why many retail locations now put trees in a shaker machine. Or some people simply shake or thump the tree outside before setting it up.

From: CDeCredico
Sent: Friday, December 04, 2009 7:00 PM
Subject: Christmas Tree Care

Hello, There is a small debate on whether or not it makes a difference to put bleach in the water for a tree. Does it make a difference and if so, why?Thank you,Cesare

Do NOT put bleach in the water. Bleach is a desiccant and will break down plant tissue. It’s terrible for the tree.

Where do you stand for other things like putting ginger ale or aspirin in the water?Thank you

You know, I was once discussing the topic of what people put in a tree’s water stand with an old tree farmer, and he said to me something I’ll never forget. It’s a “salt of the earth” kind of wisdom if you know what I mean. He said, “I don’t get it. That tree spends 8 years out in my field drinking nothing but rain water. People get it in their home and think it suddenly needs a 7 Up. I never gave that tree any 7 Up.”

Plain tap water is fine. Anything else is just going to facilitate bacteria growth in the stand. Here’s our official recommended care tips. These are compiled by plant pathologists who have actually conducted controlled scientific studies on needle retention and moisture absorption. I trust scientists more than old wives tales.

Great questions everyone....keep them coming!