Using real Christmas trees is a good way to support growers and bring fresh aromas to the season. Real Christmas trees can also bring a few surprises and most need daily watering.
When using a real Christmas tree, insects overwintering on the tree may become active indoors. This is not very common, but over the years I’ve had people call about aphids dripping sticky honeydew on presents and newly hatched praying mantis hopping about.
Along with checking a tree for freshness when buying, keep an eye out for insect eggs. Insect eggs are often laid in masses. For example, praying mantis egg masses are light tan, walnut-sized, foamy egg masses on branches that can be easy to see.
You can still buy the tree. Cut out the twig with the egg mass attached to it and place it in an evergreen shrub or tree outdoors to hatch in the spring, especially for beneficial praying mantis.
If insects are noticed on a tree after is set up and decorated, control of these harmless invaders should be limited to nonchemical means. Aerosol insect sprays are flammable and should not be sprayed on a Christmas tree. Insects found on the tree can be ignored until the tree is removed.
Insects that leave the tree and are found on ceilings, walls or windows are best vacuumed or discarded in a tissue. Again, do not spray a Christmas tree with a flammable aerosol insect spray.
The majority of insects that might find their way indoors on a Christmas tree will not harm people, pets or wood; and most will not survive indoors for very long, making them a temporary nuisance.
To keep real trees fresh throughout the season, check them daily for watering needs. If the tree stand dries out, this reduces the tree's ability to take up water. Once the water is gone, water-absorbing cells in the trunk base become plugged with resins.
A conifer can take up to a gallon or more of water daily depending on its size and condition. The fresher the tree, the faster the basin will dry out. Providing water on daily basis will keep holiday trees fresh and maintain aroma for four to five weeks.
When watering, use plain water with no additives. Research has found commercial preservative mixes, aspirin, sugar and other common home remedies do not provide any benefits in keeping Christmas trees fresh.
If a tree stand dries out, and the tree seems to not be taking up water after it is added, this is a problem. The only way to fix this is to make a fresh cut to the base of the trunk. This would not be easy to do with a decorated tree so make it a habit to add water to tree stands daily.
After the holiday, trees can be recycled to get even more for your money. They can be propped up in the backyard and turned into backyard bird feeders until spring; or used as mulch around the landscape.
For mulch, cut the branches and bundle them together to place over or around newly planted perennials and small shrubs for winter protection. As with all winter mulch, remove the branches in the spring, just as plants begin to grow.
Evergreen branches can also be chopped or ground into woodchips and used as mulch in flower and shrub beds. Once they decompose, they will add organic matter to the soil and continue to provide landscape benefits.