Christmas Tree Preservative

    Kids, do you have a real Christmas tree for the holidays?  How would you like to be in charge of feeding and watering your tree?  Yes, your tree needs food and water just as much as you do! 

    Please note:  All chemicals and experiments can entail an element of risk, and no experiments should be performed without proper adult supervision.

    Christmas tree and cut flower preservatives all contain the same ingredients: a food source for the plant, an acidifier (hard water is alkaline - making the water more acidic helps the plant take in water and food), and a disinfectant to prevent mold, fungi, and algae from growing.

    Here are some really important safety tips before we get started:

    1. Be sure to have an adult partner to supervise and to pour the ingredients.

    2. Do Not Drink! If you make enough preservative to store, label your container and keep it out of reach of other kids and pets.

    3. Mixing bleach and vinegar is not recommended because it produces toxic vapors when mixed. However, the low levels used here will be okay if your adult partner follows a certain procedure. If vinegar or lemon juice is used, add it to the water and then add the bleach to the water/acid mixture.

    4. Make your solution in a well-ventilated area.

    5. For the Christmas tree, you will need 1 gallon of water, 2 cups light corn syrup, 4 teaspoons lemon juice or vinegar (optional), and 4 teaspoons chlorine bleach. Add all ingredients to the water individually.

    6. For flowers you can cut the recipe down to: 1 quart water, 1/2 c. corn syrup, 1 tsp. bleach, 1 tsp. lemon juice.

    7. Both trees and flowers will last longer in cooler areas away from direct sunlight. Make sure the tree or flowers always have enough preservative. Regularly refill the vase or the base where the tree sits. You can store the solution for 4-5 days at room temperature in a closed container or for two weeks refrigerated.

    8. If you don't have corn syrup, you can substitute 4 teaspoons of sugar dissolved in the water.

    9. Another common option is to substitute a can of acidic soft drink, like Sprite or 7-Up, instead of the corn syrup and lemon juice. Just add a can of (non-diet) soft drink to a gallon of water, with the tiny amount of bleach.

    10. Instead of bleach and an acid, some people add a penny to a sugar solution with the idea that the copper can act as both a fungicide and acidifier. Personally we can’t attest to how well this would work. Maybe you could try both as part of your experiment, using two different vases of the same flowers! 


    Kathleen Carrado Gregar, PhD, Argonne National Labs 
    [email protected]
    December 2006



    Dr. Anne Marie Helmenstine at: