Deck the Halls with Eco-friendly Green
By Peggy Markham
“Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree, of all the trees most lovely…”
One of the biggest decisions to be made for the holiday season centers on the Christmas tree, that ubiquitous symbol of joy and celebration. This year, go green! Make an eco-friendly choice. Choose a live tree; the planet will thank you.
Natural is better, according to many environmentalists. Real trees are a renewable, recyclable resource and biodegradable. For each tree cut, at least three seedlings will be planted in its place. An average of 56 million trees a year. It takes between five to 16 years to grow a Christmas tree and as the tree grows, it absorbs carbon dioxide and other gases while giving off oxygen. Tree farming is vital to the environment for stabilizing the soil, providing refuge for wildlife, creating scenic views, maintaining passive green spaces and protecting water supplies.
A fun outdoor adventure for all ages is a trip to a tree farm to select and cut down your own tree. Make an effort to locate a local organic tree farm and try to avoid farms where harmful pesticides and chemicals are used. Some states sell permits for cutting Christmas trees in the national forests, so check with your local U.S. Forest Service office. Selecting a tree from a local farm means the product didn’t spend hours drying out while being hauled by truck over hundreds of miles.
Basic Things to Consider Before Going to the Tree Farm
- Measure the height and width of the space where you intend to place the tree and plan how you will get it into the house. Remember, trees look smaller outside in the open. Think how you will transport the tree home — on the top of your car, in a truck or hanging out the back of the car’s deck.
- Consider the foliage of the tree. Do you like stiff needles or soft ones? (Consider children playing around the tree.) Educate yourself on the varieties of types available: Colorado blue spruce, Concord fir (white fir), balsam Fir, Fraser fir, noble fir, Scotch pine, to name a few).
- Pets and small children. You might decide to get a small tree that sits out of reach on a table.
What to Expect at the Farm
- Make this a fun winter adventure. Pack a picnic, wear warm clothes and boots, leash the dog. You’ll need gloves to handle that prickly tree. Bring a camera.
- Tools: The farm operator usually provides these, such as the saw or chain saw, but call ahead and find out if you need to bring your own equipment.
- Pricing: Some farmers price by the foot, others measure and price each tree individually.
- Check for a straight trunk and be sure it will fit into your tree stand. Do you have a good solid tree stand? Now is the time to get one.
- Shake out the needles. (In the fall, all conifers shed their oldest needles, this is normal).
- Ask for help when cutting the tree as there are certain methods for a good cut. A back cut is made first then the final cut coming from the opposite side.
- A fresh-cut tree won’t absorb as much water initially as one bought from a tree lot. Store your tree in a bucket filled with water in the shade, but not in freezing temperatures, until you are ready to bring it into the house. Always keep the water level in the tree stand full.
Buying a Tree from a Tree Lot
- As before, measure the space where you intend to put the tree. Plan how you will get it to the house and what entrances you will use to bring the tree indoors.
- Buy a solid tree stand that will accommodate your tree size.
- Be extra careful to check for freshness. Fresh needles bend rather than break under gentle pressure. Ask the lot operator where the trees came from and how long they have been on the lot. The lot should be in shade as a sunny lot will dry out the trees.
- Shake the tree gently; only old needles should shed. There should be some sap on the base of the trunk.
- When the tree is home, trim 1/2 inch off the base of the trunk to make it easier for the tree to take in water. Fill the stand with water and check the level each day.
The Ball and Burlapped Container Live Tree
- Choosing a live container tree is the best choice for the environment, but you need to do some preparation first and remember, it is a tree that will grow!
- Prepare the area where the tree will eventually be placed. Fill the hole with mulch to keep the ground from freezing. The potted tree can survive seven to 10 days indoors and the root ball should be kept moist but not flooded with water. Wrap the root ball with plastic or place it in a tub while it sits in the house.
- When you are ready to move the tree outdoors, put it in a protected area so that it can adapt to the colder temperatures for several days. Don’t forget, this potted tree is heavy. Some garden nurseries will assist you with the planting.
- Do not remove the burlap because this keeps the root ball solid and secure. Mulch heavily over the top of the planted root ball to prevent freezing. Water only as needed. Stake the tree.
Recycling the Live Tree Post-Holidays
This is the beauty of the live tree. It can be renewed, reused and it has “natural ingredients.”
- Recycle the tree into compost or mulch. A chipped tree can be spread over hiking paths or in parks.
- Sink the tree into a pond but only if it has not been treated with chemicals, pesticides or other harmful products like fake snow.
- Call your city/county agriculture extension agency to find out about its recycle services. Many private trash collectors will pick up the discarded tree and recycle it.
- Return the tree as you found it to its natural condition.
The Other Choice: the Artificial Tree
There are valid arguments for an artificial tree. If convenience is necessary for your lifestyle, then you must take that into account but consider the not-so-obvious negatives.
- Most fake trees (85 percent) that come into the US are manufactured and imported from China. These trees are made in squalid factories where workers are paid low wages. Nearly as great a percentage of Christmas lights, wreaths, ornaments and gifts that go under the tree are made and imported from China as well.
- The cost on the environment for transporting these goods across thousands of miles is staggering.
- What are these trees made of? Most artificial trees are made of non-biodegradable plastics and possible metal toxins such as lead. The plastic material, typically PVC (polyvinyl chloride), is a petroleum byproduct and PVC is a dangerous chemical. Manufacture of PVC creates and disperses dioxins, the most toxic man-made chemical known.
- Artificial trees are not recyclable or biodegradable and end up in landfills. The average family uses an artificial tree for only six to nine years before throwing it away.
- If an artificial tree catches fire (even “flame retardant” trees will burn), the heat from the blaze releases toxic smoke.
This Year Have an Eco-friendly Green Holiday
- Buy LED lights. They last longer and are safer as they barely warm up. Invest in timers that automatically turn the lights on and off.
- Bring along your own fabric shopping bags. Avoid plastic bags.
- Recycle wraps and gift bags that you have received. Be creative with materials you have around the house, decorate grocery paper bags, use recycled paper and make bows with cotton ribbons. Wrap a gift in a beautiful scarf or a bandana.
- For the tree, string popcorn and cranberries, make old-fashioned paper chains, bake and decorate cookies and gingerbread men as ornaments, but hang them out of reach from small children and pets. Use fresh evergreens and seasonal flowers.
- Consider going paperless, using online sites for photos, slide shows and greeting cards. Use recycled paper for cards if you must send real mail.
- Bring out your best china, glasses and flatware. Use cotton napkins and tablecloths. Don’t use plastic or Styrofoam. Enjoy eggnog in a real glass and hot chocolate in a ceramic mug.
www.christmastree.org (National Christmas Tree Association)
www.americanforests.com (American Forests)
www.newsweek.com (Newsweek, Karen Springen)
America’s Celebration is China’s Windfall, By Peter S. Goodman, Washington Post Foreign Service, Sunday, Nov. 9, 2003)
www.recycle yourchristmastree.com (Colorado Recycles)
Other web sites:
Location of Christmas tree farms: www.christmas-tree.com/real/md/ or www.mda.state.md.us/md…/md_christmas_tree_assn.php
For ideas on recycling or disposing of tree go to: www.pickyourownchristmastree.org/MDxmastrees.php