Who’d a thunk it? People who care enough about Christmas trees to ponder the best way of watering them divide into distinct schools of thought. One school believes that Christmas trees require not just drink but food. This school advocates lacing the water with sugar–the suggestions in my inbox run from ordinary table sugar to Karo syrup or molasses. The second school is convinced that Christmas trees require protection against the depredations of bacteria. This school recommends fortifying the tree water with Clorox. And the third school? Advocates of plain tap water–and of plain tap water alone. And like all Puritans, the members of this school are both eloquent and vehement. A fine sample:
Aspirin and chlorine bleach are meant to act as bacteriocides. However, bacteria in tree water are unlikely to be an issue when using plain, mildly chlorinated tap water, unless the dog drinks from it. In theory, acidulated water should move up the tree more easily. However, some sources state that aspirin, etc will cause significantly greater needle drop than tap water.
Sugar, as one might expect, is intended to nourish the tree in some way. Of course, trees make their own sugars when live, and there’s no real evidence that introduced sucrose does much good. The notion of adding sugar seems to have osmosed over from cut-flower lore.
Thus, none of the commonly-suggested additives has been shown to do significant good, and some may adversely affect the tree.
The problem with plain tap water, of course, is that it’s no darned fun. Just look at some of the marvelous recipes folks sent me:
From one reader:
I have the recipe! My grandmother used to use this, and it works pretty well. It sounds crazy, but….
2 gallons hot water
2 cups clear Karo syrup
2 oz. Clorox
2 pinches epsom salts
1/2 tsp. borax
My gran used to leave the tree outside in a bucket filled with this for several days before bringing it inside, but i seldom have time to do all that.
(and merry christmas)
*1 Gallon warm water
*2 cups clear Karo syrup
*1/2 cup chlorine bleach
*1/2 teaspoon 20 Mule Team Borax
*1/4 cup vinegar
*1/4 cup Woolite
From Lucianne Goldberg:
Warm water and a half a cup of sugar works on trees that grew up south of the Mason-Dixon Line. I don’t know about California trees but this never failed for us in Virginia. Humming birds eat the same thing, actually.
And from John Podhoretz:
Use chicken soup. Maybe it wouldn’t help. But it couldn’t hurt!
Making my way through my inbox, however, I learned that, despite the infinite and delightful variety of recipes for Christmas tree water, the water–it pains me to say this–doesn’t really matter very much. What matters is making a fresh cut at the base of the tree, sawing off the bottom half inch or inch. As one reader explained:
The more important factor in keeping a tree watered is the freshness of the trunk cut. Whether one cuts his own tree or buys a pre-cut one, it’s quite important to cut off about an inch of trunk immediately before immersion in water. Given time, the cut ends of the tree’s transport tubules (remember phloem, xylem and all that?) will become filled with resin. Think back to your courting days, when your now-wife re-cut all those rose stems underwater. Same idea.
As soon as I read this, I recognized it as entirely sound advice. I also recognized it as a sentence of doom. I put my tree up without making a fresh cut, and my wife and children have now devoted the better part of two days to getting said tree decorated. Remove the tree to make a fresh cut on the stump? Now? Out of the question. I have therefore resolved to feed our tree Karo Syrup, Clorox, Woolite, humming bird mix, chicken soup, Rod Dreher’s cornbread stuffing, and, from time to time, a shot of good whisky. The tree may be a goner, but I figure if I treat it right it might not drop quite as many needles on the carpet.