How Much Water Does a Christmas Tree Need?

If you’re wondering how to keep your cut Christmas tree looking fresh and green through the holidays, we’ve got you covered. Read on to find out how much water your tree really needs to hold onto those needles.

Christmas tree with red decorations and lights close up

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If you’ve ever left flowers on your table in a vase of water, you can tell how much they are taking in by watching the water level in the vase dwindle. Once the water is gone, those flowers have a very limited time before they wilt and drop petals. Christmas trees are essentially the same. So, how much do you actually need to water them?

You may have heard that watering a cut tree doesn’t matter and that it is an unnecessary practice. I am here to tell you otherwise. In simple terms, a cut tree is like a cut flower. It won’t look nice for long if you don’t give it enough water. 

I’m an early decorator. I like my tree to be up and decorated the weekend after Thanksgiving, and I would do it earlier if I knew it would last. Putting up a Christmas tree is a lot of work, and if I’m doing all that work, I want it to last at least until I have the energy to take it all down again.

Let’s look at the factors that influence the amount of water your tree needs and how to keep it fresh and green through Boxing Day and beyond. 

The Short Answer

Realistically, you can’t overwater a cut Christmas tree. You can underwater it, though. Keeping your stand filled will ensure that your cut tree gets all the water it needs. A live tree with a root ball attached is a different story. Keep your live tree’s roots moist but never soggy.

The Long Answer

A pine cone of the endemic Bosnian pine dangles gracefully from a slender branch. The cone, approximately six inches long, boasts a rich brown hue and a textured surface with delicate scales.
Determining water needs depends on tree type, size, and indoor climate.

The amount of water a Christmas tree needs will depend on several factors. The first is whether or not it is a cut or live tree; live trees have roots attached, and you may intend to plant the tree after the holiday and will need those roots intact.

The second factor is size. Larger trees need more water, and smaller ones will absorb less. Finally, the climate inside your home determines how much water it will absorb. Let’s explore further.

Watering Your Cut Tree

An outstretched hand firmly grips a white spray bottle filled with water. The fingers exert pressure, releasing a fine mist that gracefully envelops a lush Christmas tree with vibrant green branches.
The water needs of your cut tree depend on its size and your home’s climate.

Assuming that your tree is cut, which is the most common scenario, the amount of water it needs depends on two factors: its size and the climate inside your home. Not all climates are the same, and not all trees are the same, so we look to these two factors to determine our tree’s specific needs.

Climate

A close-up of a live Christmas tree sitting on a living room against a white backdrop. The tree is decorated with a variety of festive decorations, including fairy lights and hanging ornaments.
Indoor climate significantly impacts the lifespan of your Christmas trees.

Believe it or not, the climate inside of your home is a major determinant in how long your tree will remain looking fresh and green. The most common species used for this purpose are evergreens native to mild to cool climates. They are accustomed to living outdoors, so bringing them indoors will most likely affect them, and likely not positively. 

If you live in a warm climate, chances are that the trees at the local lot have traveled quite a long way to get there. Many fir, spruce, and pines are native and tolerant only in zone 7 or colder. 

When you live in a warmer climate, your tree is likely dealing with some stress already. In this case, bringing it into your home, which is likely cooler than the outdoor temperature, may be a relief.

In cooler climates, your tree might be doing fine on the lot, but bringing it into the house can be an issue as you’ll likely be running the heat by this time. Heating the home dries out the air. Dry, warm air is deadly for most of these types of trees. The warmer and drier the house, the shorter time they will look healthy. 

Fortunately, watering helps. Watering is much more important if your home is warm and dry. Misting lightly with water also helps keep the needles green and intact. Depending on your ornaments, this might not be a possibility.

Size

A person's hand firmly grips a bright yellow tape measure, positioning it around the substantial girth of a robust tree trunk. The hand's fingers curve, applying just the right amount of pressure to ensure an accurate measurement.
Measuring trunk diameter is a better way to determine how much water your tree needs.

Not surprisingly, size is another factor in how much water it will take in. A nine-foot tree will need significantly more water than a three-foot tree. However, a six-foot tree with an eight-foot branch spread will likely need as much as that nine-footer, so height alone is not always the way to make the call.

Better than height, measuring the diameter of the trunk is a better way to determine how much water your tree will need daily. Size will also, more likely than not, influence the size of your stand. A bigger stand will have a blogger reservoir, allowing you to water less frequently. 

I highly recommend getting the largest stand your space will accommodate. While you don’t want to leave your tree festering in stagnant water, you don’t want it to run out if you get busy and forget for a day or two. 

The holidays are busy, and it is easy to overlook this task, so get the bigger tree stand. It will be worth having. At the very least, it should hold at least one full day’s worth of water, or you will drive yourself crazy.

So, How Much is Enough?

A close-up of a Christmas tree soaking its cut trunk in a bowl of water. The bowl is green and filled with water.
Properly water your Christmas tree daily based on its trunk diameter.

For the first seven to 10 days, your tree will do more drinking than it will after that. It is essential to ensure a clean cut on the trunk and keep it watered during this period. After the first one to two weeks, it will take in less water as it starts drying out. Keeping it watered from the beginning is essential to slowing down this process. 

To determine the minimum daily amount of water needed, measure the trunk’s diameter at the bottom, which will be the largest part. Assume that for every inch of trunk diameter, your tree will need at least one quart of water daily. 

That means a trunk four inches in diameter needs a stand that holds at least one gallon of water, preferably two. It is virtually impossible to overwater a sizeable Christmas tree. Keep the reservoir filled if it is on the smaller side and is not taking in the water you give it over two to three days.

Do Additives Work to Prolong the Life of a Tree?

A close-up of a wet pine tree glistening in the rain, showcasing droplets clinging to its verdant needles. The moisture enhances the texture and scent, adding a serene, refreshing aura to the forest.
Using additives in the water is often unnecessary and potentially harmful.

There are many recommendations out there regarding what you can add to your water to prolong the life of your tree. Chances are pretty solid that the Christmas lot will have at least one type of additive on hand that they will be more than happy to sell to you.

While some items are useless, others can be downright harmful. As long as you supply plenty of clean, fresh tap water, other preservatives aren’t necessary and could do more harm than good. 

Watering a Live Tree

Spraying water on the Christmas tree from spray bottle at home
Live Christmas trees with root balls need different care than cut trees.

A live tree, or one that has a root ball attached, is an entirely different animal than a cut one. Think of the difference between a potted plant and a bouquet of cut flowers. They are both beautiful, but their needs are different, so we must treat them as such. 

A live tree is trickier than cut for a few reasons. For one thing, you can only keep your live tree in the house briefly, or you risk pushing it out of dormancy. If this happens, there is a solid chance that you will lose it to cold damage. 

The general rule in watering a live Christmas tree is to keep the root ball moist. You don’t want water pooling in the container where you’ve set the root ball. The amount of water will depend on the overall size, the root ball, and the climate inside the home.

This can be simpler if your tree is potted than if the roots are exposed. A good quality potting soil can retain moisture fairly well, but you also don’t want the container in standing water at risk of root rot before you can plant it later.

Final Thoughts

Who among us wants to go through all the work of putting up and decorating a Christmas tree, only to have it turn brown and lose its needles before the big day even arrives? Certainly not me, and I wager that even the Grinch would agree. To keep your tree fresh and green, water it daily with clean tap water.

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