How to keep your Christmas tree needles on the branches and off the ground

By Mark Puleo, AccuWeather staff writer

Despite the rising popularity of artificial Christmas trees, the beauty and smells of a real tree still draw over 20 million Americans to purchase their own every season. However, with the authenticity and perks of a real tree come the issue of needles falling. For years, researchers and tree owners have tried dozens of different tricks to minimize the needle sweeping.

Before ever heading to the tree farm, remembering a few key tricks could save you a big mess.

When choosing which tree to cut or selecting a pre-cut tree, an owner can test the strength of the needles by tugging on them lightly. If they come off easily, the tree is most likely not in the best condition. You can also bounce a cut tree softly on ground to see if any loose needles fall off.

After selecting your tree and doing all the work that it takes to drag it into the living room, the first thing to do is to make sure the tree has plenty of water. Trees stay fresh by having consistent and adequate water. According to, the sap in a tree will start sealing over the cut base immediately after cutting and the process lasts about three hours.

christmas tree

Shop assistant Sven Helmich prepares a Christmas tree for selling on the market of a tree dealer in Dresden, Germany, Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2008. (AP Photo/Matthias Rietschel)

By quickly hydrating the tree and making sure that the water in the stand is well above the cut bottom, tree owners can ensure needles stay put. A helpful rule is to remember that a tree needs a quart of water for each inch of its diameter. From there, it’s important to make sure conditions are adequate to help it stay healthy as long as possible.

One way to do this is by making sure to keep the tree away from hot and dry air. By placing it in a cooler area and by using LED lights that don’t get as hot as traditional lights, the tree temperature will stay lower. By slowing the rate of water absorption and evaporation, the tree is less likely to dry out and lose needles.

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Christmas tree needles

In this photo taken Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014, Gary Chastagner, a Washington State University plant pathology professor, displays a cutting from a Douglas fir tree that's shedding needles at a school research facility in Puyallup, Wash. Consumers consistently cite messiness as one of the most common reasons they don’t have a real tree, says the National Christmas Tree Association. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Outside of the environment of the tree, there have also been plenty of do-it-yourself ideas to keep needles from falling.

One popular debate is whether or not a sugar additive can help the tree absorb more water. Some have even argued that soda like 7-up or full-sugar lemonade can help. While supporters say that the sugar helps mimic tree sap, agricultural scientists say there is little evidence to prove this works.

Another DIY trick that some have tried is hairspray. A study conducted by Australian researchers published in the Australian Journal of Botany showed that hairspray blocked the stoma on the needles, slowing the decay process. It’s important to remember the flammability of hairspray, however, as the tree will need to be far from any open flame.

While other ideas such as boiled water, Coca-Cola, beer, energy drinks, and even bleach have been suggested over the years, results have yet to prove their reliability. But by diligently selecting a healthy tree and then making sure it consistently has the adequate water needed, owners can ensure they will have a full and healthy tree all the way through the holiday season.

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