A Christmas tree, whether real or artificial, is often the focal point in the home at Christmas. A tree provides a magical seasonal atmosphere, infuses a room with the scent of pine needles and is of course a traditional place for Santa to leave Christmas gifts. For many families, choosing and dressing the tree is a time to come together with love and joy. Whether you like to put up a tree as soon as possible, or leave it until Christmas Eve, there are some simple but important tips to keep your tree looking fresh and healthy for as long as possible.

1. Choosing The Right Tree for Your Home

Before shopping for your Christmas tree work out the space it will occupy in your home. The location should be away from a central heating source, such as a radiator or underfloor heating. Trees will last much longer in a cooler space. Will it be in a corner or against a wall? In which case an odd shaped tree could be best. Will it stand on the floor or on a cupboard or table? Is there a plug socket nearby for some lights?

Boy with measuring tape

When you have decided on the location, measure the maximum height it could be, allowing for a star or an angel on the top. Check the maximum width of your space. Many people choose their tree on height alone, but forget the taller the tree the wider the base. If your tree is too wide, cutting branches back to fit the space will result in an unbalanced, scrappy looking tree.

With all your measurements to hand you are ready to choose your tree.

Tates of Sussex Garden Centres sell UK grown Abies nordmanniana (Nordmann Fir) as cut Christmas trees. It is one of the best trees to use because it is very slow to drop its needles. It also forms an elegantly shaped tree that is not too bushy, with ample spacing between the branches.
We also sell pot grown Nordmann Fir and Fraser Fir (Abies fraseri) Christmas trees up to 1.5m. Fraser Firs have a lovely pine fragrance and tend to be a slimmer choice if you have less space.

Choose an unwrapped tree where you can see its shape clearly. Remember that the branches will drop lower into position over the following days, when in an unrestricted space. Measure the width as if the branches are fully horizontal. Check the foliage looks fresh and healthy and give it a swish to make sure the needles are not all dropping off.

If you need a tree stand, now is the time to choose one, so you can make sure it fits the tree you are purchasing.

2. When you get your tree home.

You need to think of your tree as a cut flower for a vase. The cut end of the tree will have callused over, with dried sap blocking the drinking pores. Saw about 2 cm off the base of the tree to open fresh pores. It is easier to leave the netting on whilst you do this. Prop up the tree in a bucket of water outside in a shady sheltered spot and then unwrap. It may drink most of the bucket of water the first day.

Image showing Tree on its side preparing to have the end cut.

Keep your tree, cut or pot grown, outside for as long as possible and remember to check it has enough water. Rain may drip off the branches and not reach the pot it is in. A potted tree should not be indoors for more than 12 days and if it starts to look unhappy put it back outside for a day.

3. Bringing the Tree inside.

Choose a sturdy tree stand that can hold plenty of water and top it up every day. Once indoors your tree may drink ½ litre of water or more per day depending on how warm the room is. Leave the tree to settle for a couple of hours in the warmth of the room before decorating. Start with the lights first. Switching the lights on before winding them around makes it much easier to see if they are evenly spaced.

This tree stand has a large reservoir.

4. After Christmas

Pot grown trees can be planted out in your garden or moved into a slightly larger container, using John Innes No2 compost and watered regularly. You can do this annually until they are too large to move around. Remember to give them a good feed during the growing season.

Most councils have a tree recycling service available in January or you could try one of the following:
• If you have a shredder, turn your tree into mulch. Use fresh chippings on a path or rotted chippings on beds and borders. Small amounts of needles can be added to a compost heap, but they do take a long time to break down.
• The needles can be used as a mulch for acid-loving plants such as blueberries or rhododendrons.
• Create a wildlife-friendly log pile with the branches in a shady, out of the way corner.
• Secure the tree upright and hang bird treats from the branches, such as suet treats, fruit or popcorn threaded onto string. Use string not cotton thread which birds will tangle their feet in.
• Cut the trunk into rounds, leave them to dry out slowly, then sand, varnish and use as coasters.
• Add pine needles to potpourri or small fabric bags. Place in wardrobes or drawers to add some lasting pine scent to your home.
If your home looks quite bare after the tree has been taken down, consider replacing it with a large houseplant to put some natural greenery back into your space.

Merry Christmas from all at Tates of Sussex

Hazel Still Tates of Sussex Garden Centres
By our resident horticultural expert

Hazel Still