Make a Hidden Christmas Tree Watering System




About: I am: * A frequent public speaker and writer on productivity, organization, motivation, and technology * President of Spears Technologies, Inc. * Author and instructor for Microsoft's SharePoi...

This easy-to-build system is disguised as a wrapped present under the Christmas tree. It allows easy refilling and can water your tree for several days if you are away from home.

There are many benefits to decorating with live Christmas trees, but the daily watering can become a bit of a hassle, especially if your tree stand is difficult to reach. It's also impossible to travel for any extended period of time without getting someone else to water your tree while you are gone. This system will eliminate both those problems.

Step 1: Materials

You will need:
- One live Christmas tree.
- One live Christmas tree stand. Although you can't see it in the pictures because of the tree skirt, I used a tree stand with a 1-gallon reservoir, 360-degree x 10-degree tilt with a foot locking mechanism. Any tree stand should work though.
- A bucket that's about as tall as the top of your tree stand. Any plastic container that holds more water than your tree stand should work though.
- A box with a lid. The box should be big enough that your bucket can fit inside it.
- Wrapping paper and bow for decorating the box.
- Approximately 4-feet of 3/8" plastic tubing. Other dimensions may work and you can go longer or shorter if you need, but 4-feet met my needs well.
- Two 3/8" Compression Couplings x 3/4" MIP Brass Adapters with nylon or plastic bushings for the compression couplings. It's important that the compression end be the same size as the outside diameter of your tubing, but the other end is unimportant. This will be used merely as a weight to keep the end of the tubing in the bottom of the reservoir and bucket.

Step 2: Decorate the Box

I already had a wrapped box with a removable lid that was just big enough to hold my bucket. There are several other excellent Instructables to help you with wrapping gifts, so I won't go into those details here. Suffice it to say that you want to make your box look as nice as you can. Decorate the lid separate from the box so the lid can be easily removed.

Step 3: Position Box and Bucket

Place your bucket or other plastic reservoir inside the decorated box and position it where it will be easy to access. You may be tempted to put it in the very back, but resist this temptation--you may discover that the very back may be nearly as difficult to reach as it was to crawl on the floor to fill up the Christmas tree stand's reservoir every day. Remember that you are building this to make the job easier, not harder. You spent a lot of effort to make sure the box was decorated nicely, so put it where your guests can see it--show it off!

Step 4: Install Brass Fittings on Plastic Tubing

The two brass fittings serve no other purpose than to weigh down the ends of the tubing to ensure one end stays in the bottom of the bucket and the other end stays in the bottom of the Christmas tree stand's reservoir.

Separate the components of the brass adapter. Slide the compression nut onto one end of the tubing, slide on a plastic or nylon bushing, and then insert the tubing into the the body of the coupling. Once the parts are positioned on the tubing in this order, you can tighten the nut onto the coupling. It's not necessary to make this an incredibly tight connection--it doesn't need to be water-tight, it just needs to be tight enough to keep the adapter from falling off accidentally. I recommend using plastic or nylon bushings instead of brass bushings as the brass may cut your tubing if you tighten it too much. Repeat this step for the other end of the tubing.

In the picture, the plastic bushing is turned the wrong way, but since it isn't necessary to create a water-tight seal here, it's no big deal.

Step 5: Start the Siphon

This is the most difficult step in the process. It's not incredibly difficult, but may be a bit frustrating at first.

Begin by filling the Christmas tree stand's reservoir about half-full with water. Then fill the bucket to a level that is no higher than the top of your Christmas tree stand's reservoir. Warning: It is important to make sure that neither the water level in the tree stand reservoir nor the bucket is ever at a height above the top edge of other container. If so, you may end up with a nasty mess on your hands. I'm not responsible for damage to flooring, carpet, Christmas gifts, furniture, or anything else that gets damaged through the use or misuse of this system!

Once both containers are half full, submerge your tubing assembly fully into the bucket. This will allow the tubing to fill with water. Once it is full, grab a brass fitting in each hand and place your index finger over each end of the tubing. This will allow you to move the tubing without any water pouring out. While you keep one end submerged in the bucket, place the other end in the tree stand. Do not remove your finger until the brass fitting is well submerged in the water in the tree stand. Once it is submerged, release your finger and push the end into the tree stand as deep as it will go--you want the brass fitting to be on the bottom of the tree stand's reservoir.

If you were successful in this step, you should have a working siphon system between the bucket and the reservoir in the tree stand. To test this, add some more water to the bucket. If the system is working properly, you should see the water level in the tree stand reservoir rise with the level of the water in the bucket. It will rise slowly, but you should see it rise. If the water levels don't change together, then you probably have air in the tubing. Try restarting the siphon again. You may able to tell if the tubing is full of water by pinching it. If you see any air bubbles or pockets in the tubing then this is a sign you don't have a working siphon.

Step 6: Make Sure Tubing Stays Securely in Place

It is very important to make sure the brass fittings and the end of the tubing is as close as possible to the bottom of the Christmas tree stand's reservoir and the bottom of the bucket. This will ensure that they siphoning effect continues. It will also make it more difficult for someone to accidentally knock it out of the reservoir. In our home, we don't have pets that climb in the tree nor small children who might be playing under the Christmas tree, so this isn't an issue in our house, but you will want to make sure the tubing is secure enough for your own household. Plastic wire-ties are a good option to secure the tubing to keep the tubing from pulling out of the reservoir.

In the picture here, you can just barely see the tubing going into the tree stand's reservoir. The entire length of tubing is very well camouflaged by the branches of the tree.

Warning: If you have small children or pets this may not be a good system for you. If the tube is ever pulled out of either the tree stand reservoir or your bucket, and allowed to rest at a lower point, such as on a package or the floor, the water in the other container will flow out until an equal level is reached. This could mean that you end up with 2-gallons of water on your floor. You've been warned!

Step 7: Put the Lid on the Box and Enjoy!

Now that you have everything working, the only thing left is to put the lid back on the box. You'll also need to rearrange any presents you moved while you were setting this up. If done properly, no one should be able to tell that there is a bucket of water under your Christmas tree nor a tube running from the decorative box to the Christmas tree stand's reservoir.

You'll want to check the system occasionally to make sure that it continues working properly for you. You may want to make a small mark on the side of the bucket each day so you can tell how much water your tree is consuming each day and you can determine how often you need to refill.

If your bucket is taller than your tree stand, it's also a good idea to make a mark on the side for maximum fill level, just to keep you from accidentally overflowing the tree stand.

2 People Made This Project!


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27 Discussions


10 years ago on Introduction

Great instructable! I had some trouble getting the siphon working and figuring out the water levels, but once it was all set it was perfect!

2 replies

Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

Thanks for the kudos! I'm glad you got it working. Getting the siphon started is the trickiest part, followed by the water levels--especially if you can't easily see the water level in the tree stand reservoir.


2 years ago

There is no need to spend big bucks on brass fittings when you're just using them for ballast - just slip a couple of regular 1/2" (or so- whatever will fit) hex nuts over each end of the tubing, and keep them in place with some zip ties. I'll post a pic when I get back to the tree.


2 years ago

This is a great idea which is currently "in operation" next to my Xmas tree ! A couple of comments about my experience which others may find valuable.

First, while there is nothing particularly wrong with Ricky's suggestion to use brass compression fittings to weigh down the ends of the tubing to keep them underwater, I found it simpler (and cheaper) to secure the tubing to both receptacles with a strip of duct tape once the siphon is working. Make sure to leave enough tubing between the anchor points so you can move the source bucket as necessary for filling, cleaning around the base of the tree etc. Also, do not tape the tube so tight that you close it off !

Second, for me the most difficult part was getting the tube full of water. Ricky's instruction to submerge the tubing in water so that it fills up always left enough air in the tubing somewhere that I could not get the siphon working. In the end, I used the "old-fashioned" way of starting a siphon - hold one end underwater in one receptacle (A) and suck on the other end until the water rises in the tube and is close to your mouth. Remove the tubing from your mouth placing your thumb over the end as you do so. If some air gets back in the tube, that's OK. Lower the end of the tube below the level of the water in Receptacle A, and remove your thumb from the end of the tubing until water flows out of the end. If you do not want a bit of water on the floor at this point, use a bowl to catch the flow. As soon as the water flow has expelled any air in the tube, put your thumb back on the end of the tube and submerge the end into Receptacle B. The siphon action should now be established and this would be the time to use the duct tape to secure the tubing to the edge/side of each receptacle making sure that the end of each tube is near the bottom of their respective receptacles.

Finally, a comment about how the siphoning process works. Siphoning acts to make the water level the same in each receptacle. Essentially, siphoning will occur in BOTH directions, depending on the water level in each receptacle. Once the levels are the same, the water flow ceases until something causes the water levels to change - either the tree drinks lowering the level in the stand receptacle, or you fill up the source bucket above the current water level in the stand. This is why it is important that you do not fill the source bucket above the level of the top edge of the stand receptacle - the siphoning will continue, causing the stand receptacle to overflow (Ricky warns about this). But the leveling action also means that once the level of the water in both receptacles falls below the level of the bottom of the stand receptacle, siphoning will stop even if there is still water in the source bucket (i.e. the bottom of your source bucket is lower that the bottom of your stand receptacle, which will usually be the case if your source bucket is sitting on the floor. Siphoning will not resumeuntil you refill the source bucket to a higher level. This is an important consideration if you plan to use this idea to keep your tree watered for longer periods when you are away and cannot refill the source bucket regularly. See comment by Gotamamun below. Using a source bucket (in this case more of a tub) with a larger surface area of water will increase the amount of water that will be siphoned for each inch of depth in the source receptacle, thus extending the period that the siphoning action will continue without refilling the source bucket.


2 years ago

what a great idea!


3 years ago

I made this last year and I love it. We have one of those swivel tree stands and it works great with it.

I had trouble getting the siphon started, but when I discovered I could use a 60cc Catheter Tip Syringe, it was so much easier (I work in healthcare and happened to have it lying around). It is similar to this

For the box I used a cube box slightly bigger than the bucket and cut the bottom off and made a slit up the back just big enough for the tubing and just placed it over the bucket. In my version the bucket just sits directly on the floor and the "present" is more of a cozy sitting on top.

1 reply

Reply 2 years ago

A new bulb turkey baster works also (remove bulb). Put one end of weighted tubing in tree stand, hook baster tip to the other end of the tubing itself and then fill tree stand by pouring a large cup of water into the baster at a fast speed, raising and lowering the baster as need be until tubing is full. Don't overflow tree stand. Then unhook the tip of baster while the tip is submerged in the reservoir bucket. Put the weight on it while the end is under water.The key is the reservoir water level must be higher than your desired tree stand water level. If you notice flow backwards into reservoir it isn't and you will be siphoning out your tree stand water. I bought an extra 4 foot piece of cheap narrow tubing to test the system by draining water out the narrow tubing (suck on it to get it going) into a cup (horizontal) that I repeatedly dumped into a 3rd container. Seeing the reservoir water level slowly drop was reassuring. This is a wonderful addition to my favorite Christmas items. Thank you for posting Ricky.


3 years ago

I know that it has been a while, but I just had to thank you for this idea. I am allergic to Christmas trees, if I touch them, I break out in a itchy rash. I have always had live trees though, because I don't think the artificial ones give the same feeling. This will keep me from having to suit up like I'm going into space or something just to water the tree. Thank you!


4 years ago

I did not mean to put a red flag what u did was great


5 years ago on Introduction

This works. The compression coupling/MIP at home depot in 2013 costs $8+; you can pick up a similar 3/8" compression coupling with threads on the other end for $3+ and buy two large nuts that screw onto it for $0.35 each instead. We used a 17 gal tub for more surface area to water column height ratio for an extended leave of absence. Thank you!

Great instructable! I had figured on making a siphon system, but the thought had not occurred to me that I'd have to weight down the ends. Thanks for saving me the frustration! I also hasn't thought to disguise the reservoir as a present. Sneaky sneaky.


6 years ago on Introduction

Woo hoo! No more climbing under the tree to water it!
Just set this up using one of our Christmas storage bins as the reservoir. Its nice and wide so it holds a lot of water and its red and green. Getting the siphon started is a bit tricky since the water levels are so low and close but once done it works great. I'll be doing this every year from now on!

1 reply

Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

I also just did this with a red and green Christmas storage container. I was able to leave town for Christmas for 6 days and came home to a tree that still had plenty of water. Plus, the container can be used for storage after the holiday so it's double useful. Great minds!


7 years ago on Introduction

I know I'm late to the party (by 3 years) but I tried this in 2011, and it is awesome! Thank you, Ricky, for taking the time to post. We have large trees every year, that guzzle a lot of water, and I have a hard time keeping up with them. This is perfect. It actually makes watering the tree fun. Brilliant. Thanks again!


7 years ago on Introduction

Great idea and instructions.. One possible improvement on the difficult siphon start procedure (helps if very little space for your hands in the tree stand).. I used small rubber stoppers (Home depot or other hardware store) on each end of the tube after filling... Placed the tube ends in the stand and the buckets, then used my finger to knock the plugs out... (let the tree stand plug fall where it may and get it when you take the tree down... THANKS SO VERY MUCH! Jim


9 years ago on Introduction

I put together a system like this for my own tree this past week. The idea of using a siphon had occurred to me, so I started looking around and found this instructable. Putting a fake gift over the bucket is Brilliant! Makes all the difference in the world, and I'm glad I found this.

Instead of putting weights on the ends of the tube, I used some copper wire I had lying around to create "clips" that attach to the edges of the bucket and tree stand respectively. The tubes are held to the edges. My tree watering system has been a resounding success!

Details about my build are here.


Great! I'm glad it worked well for you and thanks for taking the time to let me know! Have a wonderful Christmas! I guess I don't have to be concerned about being "politically correct" when commenting on a Christmas tree post, huh? :o)