Deck the halls with Derrill Holly


About 95 million American households will host at least one Christmas tree this holiday season. More than 80 percent of those trees will be artificial. A real tree you cut yourself or buy from a store or lot was farm-grown, harvested eight to 10 years after it was first cultivated from seed.

Whether your taste runs to firs, spruces, pines, cedars, or cypresses, it’s more likely than not that your tree has spent years being sheared, shaped, and refined before it was cut this autumn and displayed for sale.

“If you’ve got a local tree farm in your area, cutting your own is the best way to make sure your tree is fresh,” said Jami Warner, executive director of the American Christmas Tree Association. “If you buy your tree from a local retailer, there’s a good chance the trees on the lot were cut at least a month ago.”

Dryness and electrical malfunctions with lights and trees located too close to heating sources can make for a deadly combination. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), fires involving Christmas trees cause an estimated $13 million annually in property damage.

“Always make sure when you buy a live Christmas tree, it is fresh cut,” said Susan McKelvey, communications manager of the NFPA. “Grab a branch, run your hand along it and see if any needles fall. If you have a lot of needles in your hand, it means the tree is already drying out.”

Tree retailers should be willing to cut a few inches from the stump to expose moist wood capable of absorbing water through the trunk and circulating it to the tree’s branches, said McKelvey. “When you get it home, set it in a large container of water and let it absorb as much as it can for at least a day before you bring it inside,” she added.

Consumers need to remember that Christmas trees are flammable, and the longer they’re inside, the likelier they are to dry out, and that’s when they pose an increased fire hazard, McKelvey said.

With five weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day this holiday season, keeping trees adequately moist to reduce fire hazards will take regular watering, proper placement, and even a bit of luck.

The NFPA recommends that trees be set up at least three feet away from any heat source, like a fireplace, heating duct, or portable space heater.

“While the number of Christmas tree fires is relatively low, trees located too close to a heat source are a factor in one of every four such fires,” said McKelvey. “When you refill the water reservoir each day, check the tree for needle loss or other signs of dryness that may indicate it’s time to take it down.”

“There are only about 500 Christmas tree fires that occur each year,” said McKelvey. Those fires are blamed for about four deaths and 15 injuries annually.


Derrill Holly writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives. From growing suburbs to remote farming communities, electric co-ops serve as engines of economic development for 42 million Americans across 56 percent of the nation’s landscape.