Annie Calovich

December 13, 2013

Arguments for buying a real Christmas tree

I had cause to work with some artificial evergreen garland while decorating for Christmas, and it made me feel ill.

I had cause to work with some artificial evergreen garland while decorating for Christmas, and it made me feel ill.

Was it a coincidence – because I did really come down with a virus – or did the chemical-smelling garland do something to me?

I can’t help but think the latter. And I cleave ever more closely to the idea of a real Christmas tree – and real garland and real wreaths – the more I live and read.

A story this week by Russell McLendon of Mother Nature Network gave me more reasons than I already had:

“Artificial Christmas trees might seem like an easy solution, but they pose a variety of environmental drawbacks. Not only are most imported from China, but they’re often made from toxic PVC and can shed lead-based dust. They also have a larger carbon footprint than real trees, each of which can absorb 30 to 400 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air annually. Production of fake Christmas trees requires some 600,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year, or roughly the amount absorbed by 300 square miles of real trees.”

Of course, real trees can produce their own allergens, and some people get sick having them in the house. But I find that something that I have to roll with, just like the pollen-filled spring air.

A 2009 report by sustainable development consulting firm Ellipsos found that an artificial Christmas tree would have to be reused for 20 years before it became the better environmental choice, according to a story by the News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash.

I was happy to hear this week that Sedgwick County recycled about 100 more real Christmas trees last Christmas than the holiday before, reversing a downward trend. Scott Bowen of Sedgwick County Environmental Resources said that 5,429 trees were recycled in 2012-2013, compared with 5,344 in 2011-2012. This year, the county will have the same locations open for recycling, and for helping yourself to free mulch made from the trees. The sites will open Friday and accept trees through Jan. 13. (See accompanying box for the sites.)

This year, I keep buying small potted evergreens at garden centers – they are irresistible – and leaving them on the front porch, tying Christmas bows at the top. If I had time, I’d put sparkly, weather-resistant ornaments on them, too. I expect these trees to last beyond Christmas.

If you want to bring a living tree into the house for Christmas and then want to plant it in the ground outdoors (a surer bet than leaving it in a container), make the indoors trip a quick one.

And don’t let the next deep freeze arrive before digging a hole in the yard for the tree. When the ground thaws enough, dig the hole for the tree, and then backfill with the soil to keep it from freezing. And mulch the hole. Time the arrival of the tree indoors so that it is not there for more than three days, or it might come out of dormancy.

After Christmas, move the tree to an unheated garage for several days to acclimatize it to outside temperatures. After planting, water well and leave some mulch in place to prevent the soil water from freezing and becoming unavailable for the plant.

Back to cut trees: The News Tribune quoted Northwest Christmas-tree grower Ed Hedlund and other growers and arborists offering these tips on choosing and caring for a real tree:

• “Freshness: This isn’t an issue if you cut your own, but it will be at the corner lot. If the green needles look droopy, or an inordinate amount drop when the tree is brushed or shaken, avoid it. Bump it on the ground: Green needles will not drop off. Fresh fir needles will break in two when fresh. Pines will not. Don’t be concerned with brown interior needles – all trees will have some.
• “Cut the butt: If your tree, whether you cut it or purchased it at a lot, has been out of water for more than four hours, it’s a good idea to give the butt a fresh cut. Trees will naturally seal over cut cells after a few hours out of water, disabling their ability to take up water. Cut a 1/4 inch off the end of the butt before placing it in a water stand.
• “Placement: Don’t place the tree near a heater, register or wood stove. If possible, place it near a window which generally will be the coldest part of your home. Did you find the almost perfect tree with a defect on one side? No worries: Place that side against a wall.
• “Care: Treat your tree as if it were a gigantic flower bouquet. It’s vitally important to keep the butt of the tree in a water-filled stand. That way it will look and smell fresh weeks longer than if left to dry, and it will drop fewer needles when removed. Add water daily. Research has found that a tree can use up to one quart of water a day for every inch of stem diameter. Research has also shown that plain water without any commercial or home remedy preservatives is the best method to keep your tree hydrated. “There’s nothing that outperforms water,” Hedlund said.
• “Meet the flockers: There are some who can’t imagine Christmas without their tree covered in simulated snow. Others wouldn’t be caught dead with them. Aside from aesthetics, flocking adds fire protection to trees and hides imperfections.”

That’s a retro artificial addition to a real tree that I can live with.

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