Few traditions are more important to seasonal family celebrations than the selection and decoration of the Christmas tree. So entrenched are these annual rituals that for some couples considering marriage, the question of “what kind of tree will we have, live or artificial,” ranks almost as highly as, “do you want children,” or “do you prefer cats or dogs.”
For individuals who want to hold with tradition, but who are also concerned about making choices that are healthy for the environment, there are thoughtful options that meet both sides of the equation.
Choose a live tree. According to many environmentalists, the “greenest” option is the living, plantable tree with a burlap-covered root ball. There are a few things you should know to determine if this is the right choice for your family. First, since your tree will be planted outdoors after the holidays, you should do your homework and find out what type of tree is best suited to your geographic location. Consider the size the tree may reach in maturity and whether you have a place in your landscape that will accommodate it. Also, it is advisable to choose a species that will thrive in the type of soil and the average level of rainfall in your area.
Be prepared. Because the tree still has its roots surrounded by soil encased in burlap, it will be considerably heavier than a cut tree. The live tree will require some special maintenance while it is in your home. Make sure you receive detailed instructions from your garden center, tree lot or Christmas tree farm, so you can keep your tree healthy before and after it is planted. Choose an indoor location away from heat sources and air vents to keep your tree from drying out. Some professionals suggest you “harden” your tree by placing it in an unheated area, such as an enclosed porch, before taking it outdoors for planting to avoid exposing it too quickly to drastic changes in temperature.
Decorate an outdoor tree. Probably the least expensive option, decorating an outdoor tree, saves the cost of purchasing a tree, which can be used on gifts instead. Make sure you use lights and extension cords that are rated for outdoor use and that electric cords are not placed across walkways or other areas where they can pose a safety hazard. If you have pets that are predisposed to chewing on whatever is in their reach, consider battery operated string lights.
Select a tree from a local tree farm. While most Christmas trees are now grown on established farms so deforestation isn’t an issue, many of these trees use pesticides, and still must be shipped, often from long distances requiring fuel, significantly increasing their carbon footprint. The “greener” option is to choose a tree from a local, sustainable or organic tree farm.
By buying locally, you’ll cut down on CO2 emissions. And supporting sustainable and organic farms helps prevent environmental degradation from herbicides and pesticides on big conventional operations. It is also beneficial to your local economy. To find a Christmas tree farm in your area visit www.localharvest.org, which provides a list of tree providers across the country, some of which will allow you to cut your own tree.
Keep your cut tree fresh during the holidays by watering daily or as needed. A healthy fresh tree can “drink” several cups of water a day, especially if your indoor air is warm and has low humidity. When it’s time to take down your tree, don’t let it meet a tragic and wasteful fate taking up space in a landfill. Check for resources in your local community where Christmas trees can be converted to mulch or compost. If you have wooded or natural areas on your property, your tree can find a new home as shelter for small creatures such as rabbits, and birds.