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Christmas Lights: Protect Your Trees During Holiday Decorating

Clark and Ellen Griswold looking at Christmas lights in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

There’s nothing more festive than Christmas tree lights and holiday decorating on your trees, especially on evergreens like pines or spruces. However, well-meaning decorators can put their trees — or themselves — at risk when they don’t take proper precautions.

Here’s how to make sure your holiday decorating is full of Christmas cheer for both you and your trees!

Attaching Christmas Tree Lights

Careless attachment of decorations is one of the biggest risks to trees. Items like zip ties can cut into bark and damage it. If they’re not removed when decorations are, they can affect tree growth.

Using nails, screws or other metal attachers is not a good plan. Metal fasteners damage the bark of trees and are unlikely to be removed when decorations are. The damage from holes, and/or from rusting nails or screws, can leave the tree vulerable to infection from pests, disease and fungi.

Embedding metal in the trunk can also cause risks for tree work later on. Pruning and branch or tree removal with metal pieces embedded in the branches can cause damage to equipment or harm to the person doing the work if they’re not aware or wood has grown around the nails.

Tree Growth and Your Christmas Decorations

Most decorators get their Christmas lights and other decorations down in January, or at least by the time the weather warms up. But some die-hards leave them up year round, figuring they’ll skip the hassle of removing decorations and redecorating next holiday season.

This is a mistake — tightly wound cords, strings and other connectors and attachments can restrict your tree’s growth. Plastic zip ties can especially restrict growth. It’s best to remove decorations once the holidays are over so your tree can resume normal growth.

Tree Bark Damage

Drilling or hammering attachments and fasteners into your trees can cause obvious bark damage. Careless installation can also be a risk, however.

Cords and wires that scrape against trunks can damage the bark. Hands, boots and ladders can also scrape or break bark if you’re not careful. Trunk damage leaves a tree more vulnerable to pests and disease once the weather warms up next spring.

Ladder Safety

Ladders can be a major risk for falls and result in many injuries to homeowners each year. In the winter, snowy or wet conditions can make you more liable to slip. Wearing bulky boots or placing a ladder on unstable damp ground can also be a hazard for slips or falls.

Always use ladders on stable and dry surfaces and make sure you have a spotter to assist. If the weather has been icy, never risk using a ladder to install your holiday decorations! One of the best gifts you can offer your family is being home for Christmas, not in the ER.

Electrical Safety

Multicoloured Christmas lights on bare tree branches Photo Jonathan Meyer Pexels

When plugging in lights and other electrical decorations, make sure you’re following electrical safety precautions. Only use lights and cords that are rated for outdoor use. If you’re short of outdoor lights, resist the temptation to substitute an indoor set — this is an electrical and fire hazard.

Keep in mind that furry friends like squirrels and raccoons, or your own pets, may also be drawn to your decorations — as chew toys. Make sure you inspect lights and other decorations for damage before installing, and throughout the season, especially if you’re noticing electrical problems like flickering lights. Damaged cords need to be safely discarded and replaced.

DIY Holiday Pruning

Finally, branch removal can cause damage to your trees over the holiday season. Some decorators will remove branches while installing Christmas lights or other decorations in order to hang an item in a particular spot. This can damage your tree if a branch is removed improperly or unnecessarily. Work with the shape of the tree you have!

Other enthusiasts may remove branches from the tree itself for indoor or outdoor decorating. Again, this isn’t the best idea for your tree’s health. Removing too many branches can affect your tree’s ability to recover and regrow branches. You may remove critical branches or cut at a location that makes it difficult to heal.

If you want to decorate with evergreen or deciduous branches or bark, it’s best to buy from a tree lot or garden centre where trees are grown for this purpose.

However, if you’ve happened to have some tree pruning done close to the holiday season, go ahead and save the branches for decorating — keep them outdoors or in a cool environment for longevity.

Happy Trees, Happy Holidays

Once you’ve considered your trees’ health and your own safety in your decorating plan, it’s time to go wild! Whether you favour classic white tree lights, a multicolour rainbow, or a garden of inflatable Santas, holiday decorating that keeps your trees safe is easy once you take a few precautions.

Need help repairing your tree health after mistakes with last year’s decorating? Give us a call at Vista Tree.

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