Friday, October 23, 2015

Christmas Tree Stands 101

In all the years I have been answering questions, concerns and comments from consumers in my role for NCTA as the person who answers those, several trends have always been trends. Which makes them something more like a truth really.

Anyway, one of those is that when people describe a “bad” experience with displaying a fresh Christmas tree, the MOST COMMON cause behind the negative experience is that they were using a crummy tree stand.  Either it was flimsy, not suited to their decorating style, not sized correctly to their tree, didn’t hold enough water, or some other simple design flaw.

Avoid the Most Common Mistake with Fresh Christmas Trees: Get a Good Tree Stand

Your Real Christmas Tree stand is an important part of your home’s holiday festivities. An obvious reason is that you can’t safely put up your tree without one. The good news is you have options for stands that can fit your space, your tree and personal preference or decorating style. NCTA recommends four types of stands because of their advantages listed below – and all of them include a large water reservoir that allows the plant to absorb as much water as needed.  Absorbing plenty of water keeps the tree from dehydrating, turning brown, and the needles falling too quickly.

Where there’s a tree, there’s often a stand. Use our website’s Tree Locator to find retailers in your area. Many tree lots and farms also offer a large selection of stand. Precautionary note: Remember to match the stand's recommended maximum weight and tree size capacity.

Four Types of Stands NCTA Recommends:

The Center Pin Stand

This type of stand has a pin sticking up in the center of the water pan. Ask your grower/retailer to drill a vertical hole in the end of your tree’s trunk with a special drill machine made specifically for this purpose. The tree will then slide over the stand’s pin without the need for additional support. This style is good for trees with very low branches, if you prefer them to be close to the floor. Another benefit of this stand is quick and easy set up, but you do have to find a retailer with the correct drill machine to use.

The Two-piece Stand

This stand has a t-bolt and lock system that helps hold the tree straight. The removable water reservoir (that’s the second “piece”) is easy to fill and can be removed separately after you take the tree and its attached piece out. This style makes it easy for one person to make adjustments to get the tree straight in a vertical position.

The Four Bolt Stand

The simple design of this stand makes it very easy to use. Made of various materials, this style is probably the most common. This type of stand is typically available in many sizes for trees that range in height from four to 20 feet. The four bolt stand is good for trees with long “handles,” meaning the lower branches have been removed. It is also designed with a “lip” along the bottom, which catches any water spilled when filling.  Many people find it easier to attach the stand initially when the tree is on its side, but only tighten the bolts down about 80%.  Then set it vertical, adjust the tree’s angle and finish tightening the bolts.  Do not be afraid of over-tightening the bolts, even if they penetrate the bark of the tree.  This will NOT limit the tree’s ability to absorb water.

The “Clamp” Stand

This style has a foot pedal that adjusts the clamp and claw system and can make it easier for one person to set up their tree. It typically holds trees up to 9 feet high with trunks up to 7 inches in diameter. The stand's base holds up to 1½ gallons of water, making refilling easier. It is also a good fit for people with pets – they can’t easily get to or drink the water because it is enclosed within the structure of the stand.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Giving trees back (to Mother Nature)

Many recycling programs are wrapping up. 12th Night has passed. If you still need to get your farm-grown REAL Christmas tree into the local plant material recycling program, please do so. Remember folks, don't try this with a plastic fake tree. Here's another great example of a well-organized, community-wide tree recycling program implemented by a non-profit group in the Reno/Sparks, NV area.
It's been fascinating over the years to see so many creative and innovative and productive uses of the trees after the holidays.  It seems to me that as programs find more ways to recycle trees, there's more interest in recycling in general and I've had more inquiries and interview requests about it.  In case you haven't seen it, we have compiled a brief sampling of some of the programs around North America we have seen over the years.  They can be found on this page of the main site 
Being an angler, my favorite programs are those where trees are used to create fish habitat, boost the natural eco-system of a body of fresh water, and improve fishing prospects.  I wrote in detail about how the whole process works back in 2009...check it out if interested 
This past year, I did an interview with NPR's Adam Cole about Christmas tree recycling; it's history and evolution from "a few scattered programs" to something that's now ubiquitous and commonplace.  He very cleverly compiled some Christmas tree recycling stories into a poem.  You can read it or listen to it here
Christmas tree recycling -- REAL ONES GROWN ON A FARM -- are a great success story.  It's something to point out the next time someone mistakenly suggests that they made a better environmental choice by buying a plastic, tree-shaped decoration because they can re-use it.  That's very shortsighted, because in a matter of years (maybe 6-9) those non-biodegradable, manufactured products will end up in a landfill.  Forever.  Real Christmas trees on the other hand, as 100% biodegradable plants, will always decompose and return nutrients to the Earth, as all plants do.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Learning is Fun!

Real Trees 4 Kids! Curriculum STILL a Great Resource After Many Years

We recently heard from a group of students working on a summer project thanking NCTA for the RT4K! curriculum, which they used for their research.

Here’s an excerpt: I wanted to email you on behalf of my AP Summer Bio group.  We really enjoyed you page, ... it helped us on our Ecosystems & Biome Final Project.  You have some great resources on there!  Ms. Willman (our group tutor) suggested we write to you to thank you, and tell you how helpful we found it.

That curriculum was developed by a professional curriculum designer as part of an NCTA project funded by RealTree Program donations many years ago.  While NCTA no longer has the funding to create updated / new material in the curriculum, it’s still maintained and available to teachers and students for free at

If you have school tours at your farm or business, or if you work with local schools at all, make sure they know that resource is still available and it’s still valuable.


Fake Plastic Trees May be Challenged in Court

For many, many years now, purveyors of plastic, tree-shaped decorations have claimed to consumers that their product was “fire retardant” or even “fire-proof” ….in stark contrast to a farm-grown Christmas Tree.  They used this message very effectively in marketing campaigns and printed the words on their products packaging.  If you scoff at how effective this message has been, consider that every time consumers were asked on the annual poll to list any reasons they chose not to decorate a fresh, farm-grown Christmas tree, the 2nd or 3rd most common reason listed has ALWAYS been “fire safety concerns.”  It’s just a reality now that many people won’t purchase a real Christmas tree because they are convinced that it could burst into flames.

And the flip side is, they purchase a plastic tree-shaped decoration in the belief that the words on the product’s box are true: they are flame retardant and won’t catch on fire.  Well, the reality is that plastic trees will in fact burn if exposed to a large enough heat source/flame.  Here’s an example of one that caught fire in 2011 in a school in Pennsylvania

NCTA was contacted by a law firm in the Southeast a few months ago which was filing a suit against a fake tree manufacturer for their claim that their product was fireproof, when it caught fire.  We don’t know the details of the incident or case in question yet, but know that NCTA is working with the plaintiffs as much as possible.

Again, it’s important to note that the funds to pay for this effort come from both the TIP program and RealTree donations.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Trees, environment and drooping?

We got an eamil from Char Miller of Pomona College, sharing his recent article outlining the environmental impact of plastic tree-shaped decorations, vs farm-grown Real Christmas Trees.

Dear colleagues - thought you and your colleagues would enjoy this column - please share and post!

Char Miller, Director
Environmental Analysis Program

W. M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis

Pomona College

Thanks for sharing Char.

It’s yet another example of how I feel that the “debate” about environmental impacts of growing, displaying and recycling a Real Christmas Tree vs. buying and eventually throwing away a plastic tree-shaped decoration is no longer even a debate.  It’s just a myth the plastic peddlers keep desperately trying to confuse people with.  It’s sad to see their duplicity and disingenuousness in the product promo for a plastic tree-shaped decoration including the phrase “Save a tree!” …printed on the product’s cardboard box.

I would disagree however with Mr. Lowenstein’s assertion that buying a tree from a farm labeled organic is better for the environment.  But overall, it’s another environmental group that supports Christmas tree farms and their sustainable, recyclable crop.

Here's a feel-good story from the Trees for Troops program.  It's a video produced and shared by American soldiers stationed in Kuwait receiving a donated Christmas tree from their home state of Indiana!

This was an interesting question about a tree "changing shape":

From: trixneron
Sent: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 6:40 PM
To: NCTA-Rick Dungey
Subject: Droopy Christmas Tree
I have never had this happen to me before, my Christmas tree is droopy.  The water tub is full and has been for days, we trimmed the bottom and  drilled a hole in the tree before we put it up but everyday the bottom branches are getting closer and closer to the floor.  It's not dry or brittle at all, the leaves are soft and pliable, all in all it seems healthy.  Have you ever heard of this, and is there anything I can do to help perk it up?

As the plant tissue warms and the plant comes out of dormancy and it takes up moisture, the tissue will return to its "summer-like" condition. Meaning, the plant tissue will naturally become more pliable, bendable and flexible.  I don’t think there's anything wrong with your tree at all, the branches are returning to their natural position.  If you don't like that look, you can trim them from the tree, avoid hanging anything heavy on them which increases the bend, but no...there's not really anything you can do to cause them to point upright.

Finally, a couple photos to share.  First, you've all heard the phrase "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" from a popular Christmas carol.  But have you ever seen one at harvest?  This is what they look like before they "dance around" a roasting pan.

And here's my 2012 fresh, farm-grown Christmas Tree!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

local recycling

Often, we are asked, “How does NCTA promote Christmas tree recycling programs?”  In fact, tomorrow I’m on a webinar panel for Waste Age magazine talking about Christmas tree recycling programs.  As I’m sure most readers of this blog are aware, after Christmas, Real Trees can be recycled in a number of ways, such as becoming mulch for gardens and trails, habitats for fish or barriers to reduce shoreline erosion.

But nowadays, almost all Real Trees are recycled either in community programs or in someone’s garden or yard.  Recycling programs are done on a very local level.  Local tree recycling programs can be easily found through the Internet and in local news media.  We don’t have a resource specific to finding your local tree recycling program.

For example, where I live in St. Louis city, I received the following email from the city recycling program through my neighborhood association E-newsletter:

From: Recy, Cle []
Sent: Monday, December 10, 2012 10:21 AM
Subject: City of St. Louis Recycling Program Blue Bin News December 2012

Christmas Tree Recycling in St. Louis

The City will be offering Christmas tree recycling from December 27, 2012 until January 13, 2013 at the following loca­tions:

FOREST PARK, Lower Muny Opera parking lot.

O’FALLON PARK, West Florissant and Holly, picnic ground #4.

CARONDELET PARK, Grand and Holly Hills, area between gate and recycling containers.

These trees will be recycled into mulch, which is then available for use by City residents. Please keep in mind the following upon disposal: Remove all ornaments, tinsel, lights, and tree stand. Do not put the tree in a plastic bag or cover it. Wreaths and pine roping are not accepted at these sites. A City of St. Louis Refuse Division--Recycling Program Publication Reader Submissions Welcomed!


Now, that tells me all I need to know about how to recycle my tree after Christmas.  It probably tells you nothing if you don’t live in St. Louis.  But I bet a similar piece of information about recycling trees where you live can be found just as easily.  Whether through E-communications or a simple online search.


Peter Mason emailed NCTA to share the story about a cool project in the Seattle area.  Here is his note:


I volunteer for a community based environmental restoration group in Seattle, Friends of Madrona Woods. This year we are running a small fundraiser selling living trees to community members, who then donate them back to be planted in our public urban greenbelt after the holidays.

For more info on Madrona Woods restoration (where I volunteer) see:


Sounds like a cool program, thanks for sharing Peter.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Thanks and Scents

We received this very kind message along with this photo from a soldier stationed in Afghanistan.  You gotta check this out and I challenge you to not be moved by it.

We received an interesting email from a tree farm in South Carolina responding to our weekly request to farms and lots to let us know how tree sales are going.
“Because of new customers, I had to order additional stands today from our supplier. The salesperson stated that this is happening all over the country. Additional orders are coming in to cover new customers who have not had a real tree in years and need a stand.” 

Well, that’s certainly a good sign.  And it also gives me a chance to reiterate the importance of having a good tree stand.  I see a lot of bad stands in stores, but there are also many good ones.  What makes a good one?  Water holding capacity (at LEAST 1 gallon for a typical 6 foot tall tree) and stability are the two most important qualities.  After that, choose a style you prefer.  Some prefer a center pin style where the lot or farm will drill a hole in the center of your tree’s trunk (this does NOT affect its ability to absorb water).  Some prefer the 4-bolt style.  There are also “claw” style and 2-piece bowl and stand style.

Here’s a question we get sometimes about a strange phenomenon, with my reply in Blue.
-----Original Message-----
From: Renee
Sent: Tuesday, December 04, 2012 9:47 PM
To: NCTA-Rick Dungey
Subject: Have a really bad odor

This is the first year I have had a Christmas tree smell really bad. It is making my whole home smell. I'm worried my kids are going to get sick from it. I wanted to know if it will go away?  Let me know if you can give me any tips.

Hello Renee.
There could be a number of things going on.  Commonly, a source of a bad smell is something people put in the water in the stand.   However, you didn’t mention that so I have to assume that’s not the case in your situation.  It is possible that the tree was harvested, shipped and stored in a humid, moist condition and that can be causing the bad smell.

While many species are described as having varying scents, only one species is commonly described as having a “bad” scent and that is the White Spruce.
If your tree is not that species, then the added moisture in the plant tissue from the water the tree is absorbing will boost its natural 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/back and that should release some aroma most would describe as "pine-ey" or "Christmas tree smell".

I'd need more information to give you more guidance than that.

And speaking of Christmas tree scent, here’s a nice segue.  Sara Altshul recently posted an article on about scientific evidence showing the smell of a Christmas tree is not only emotionally good for you, but also physically good for you.  “Pine and other evergreen trees, as it turns out, are loaded with compounds that have a variety of positive effects on the human body,” states Altshul.  Check out the article.  Get a fresh, farm-grown Christmas tree and be healthy. 
Yet another thing you can’t get from a plastic, tree-shaped decoration posing as a Christmas tree.  Just sayin'...



Monday, November 26, 2012

Farms and Conservation

Read a great article recently in the Missouri Conservationist magazine about Christmas Tree farms working in conjunction with the conservation department.  Provides great information about farms starting out and how they operate.  One of the featured farms is Meert Tree Farm, members of NCTA.