Christmas Tree Safety Tips

The Christmas tree is the focal point of holiday decorating. Live cut trees fill a home with natural beauty and a pleasant fragrance and are adorned with treasured ornaments collected over the years. The following tips will help provide the maximum enjoyment and safety of displaying a live tree.

Following proper safety precautions on your tree will ensure a safe Christmas season.

Following proper safety precautions on a tree will ensure a safe Christmas season.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2015 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Choosing a Precut Tree

Grasp a branch between the thumb and forefinger and pull. Very few needles will come off if the tree is fresh. Next, take a few needles and bend them. If they spring back, the tree is fresh. Now, bump the trunk of the tree on the ground. If green needles fall off the tree, then it is dry. It is normal for a few brown needles to fall from the tree. If too many brown needles fall off, choose another tree.

The length of time a tree has been cut affects tree freshness. Trees that have dropped below 75 percent foliar moisture content will continue to dry out even when placed in water. Select trees that have been cut for a short period of time. For more information, see HGIC 1750, Selecting a Christmas Tree.

Choosing a Field-Grown Tree

Field-grown trees at choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms will last much longer. Since they are still connected to their roots, the trees will be fresh and full of water. Select a tree that will fit the stand. Then, gently shake the tree to see if any green needles fall. After that, break a few needles and check for fragrance.

Frasier firs, pines, and Leyland cypress will stay fresh longer than other trees. Cedars and cultivars of Arizona cypress stay fresh for a shorter period of time.

Balled and Burlap Trees

When choosing to use a balled and burlap or containerized tree as a Christmas tree, keep in mind that it can only be kept inside for a maximum of 7 to 10 days. It has to be kept in a cool room with a temperature of 60 to 65°F and near a window. For more information, see HGIC 1751, Living Christmas Trees.

Before Bringing the Tree Inside

When returning home, recut at least one inch from the trunk and immediately place the tree in plain water. If the tree isn’t taken inside until later, store it out of the wind and sun in an unheated, sheltered area, such as a garage or porch. Do not expose the tree to freezing temperatures at any time. Ensure the container has sufficient capacity to keep the trunk in water all the time. A fresh tree may use more than a gallon of water a day.

Because a tree is a natural product, it may have some dead needles, small limbs, and grasses in the tree. Clean the dead materials from the tree before it is brought inside.

If the tree is stored outside in water for several days, recut a half inch from the stem just before taking it inside.

Once The Tree is Inside

Once the tree is inside, secure it in a stable tree stand that will hold at least one to two gallons of water. It’s important to keep the trunk base covered with water and check the water level daily. Keep the tree away from heat sources, such as hot air ducts, radiators, fireplaces, and television sets, as heat will quickly dry the tree out. Follow these additional fire safety tips:

  • Use only UL-approved lighting accessories. New LED lights make a tree safer as they emit less heat and will not dry out the tree as quickly as the older, hot incandescent bulbs will do. LED lights tend to be more expensive, but they are more cost-effective as they use less electricity and have a longer life span than incandescent lights.
  • Avoid combustible decorations.
  • Keep metal foil and tinsel away from electrical sockets.
  • Always turn off the decorations before going to bed or leaving home.
  • Ensure the smoke detector is in good working order and fresh batteries are installed.
  • Have a properly functioning fire extinguisher within easy reach.
  • Never place candles or other open flame sources on or near the tree.
  • Test all light strands before putting them on the tree. They should be in good working order and condition. Never use any lights that have worn or frayed cords.

After the Christmas Season

After the Christmas season, check the lights and dispose of any electrical items that are showing wear. Pack them carefully and store them in a cool, dry place. Storing decorations in a hot attic may cause electrical components to develop problems.

Live trees can be recycled to benefit wildlife. For more information on repurposing a Christmas tree after the holidays, see HGIC 1754, Repurposing Live Christmas Trees to Benefit Wildlife.

Originally published 011/99

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at or 1-888-656-9988.

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