No tree, no problem


Most years, we have the Christmas tree post here on Rant (here’s a great one); the topic is a source of mild controversy among gardeners, mainly because of the sustainability angle. It breaks down this way:

Just buy a cut tree
Trees are an agricultural product and buying from a local tree farm usually means you’re supporting a small independent business. The trees provide oxygen and wildlife habitat when they’re in the ground, a lovely scented focal point in the home, and then are recycled into municipal mulch in most communities (including mine). Win, win, win, win.

Buy a live tree and plant it
I have only one problem with this—where?  This won’t work for those of us who don’t have a few acres sitting around empty waiting for evergreens to fill them up. But still, a nice idea, if you can do it. A quibble—most live trees I see are kind of puny.

Buy an artificial tree of some type
Personally, I hate these trees and think they’re kind of gross. However, I suppose there is a sustainability argument to be made, as they can be continually reused. But who made them, where were they made, and what are they made of? The answers to those questions can really undermine whatever benefit these trees have.

No tree at all
Actually, that’s where I am now. We don’t have kids, so we have the choice. We do have three mantelpieces and lots of other architectural features that will take lights and other décor.  I also have several large houseplants that are just about the size of most live trees; they’re  tough enough to stand up to a little decorating once a year. So instead of focusing on a tree, I bring in bales of cut branches, which gives me the choice of many different types of evergreens—juniper, cedar, firs, pine, spruce, etc.

And then there are all the forced bulbs that are coming up from the root cellar now. I have so much stuff already growing in my house that it just doesn’t seem necessary to haul in a cut tree. But I love visiting the beautifully decorated cut trees of my friends and relatives.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. There’s another reason some of us can’t have real trees, as much as we’d love to: allergy to pine. I break out in a tiny rash everywhere pine touches me – inherited it from my mother, which is why she went to an artificial tree when we were all teenagers. Well, that and the fact that my father couldn’t get the tree properly into the stand and keep it in place without wiring it into a corner!

  2. I’m allergic to something in evergreens – maybe residual pollen (which I know I’m allergic to) or mold spores? Maybe dust, though heaven knows that’s no stranger on my life. I don’t know, but every time we bring one in the house, my allergy symptoms kick it up a notch – itchy, sneezy, snuffling. But we still have a real tree. Wouldn’t have it any other way. I love the smell of fresh fir. I love seeing what each new tree looks like & stringing lights & decorations. I love that it provides habitat & oxygen until we bring it home & afterwards it provides an acidic mulch for my plants that need it. Artificial trees make me cringe.

    I do see, in the future when the the kids are out of the house (& maybe before the grandkids arrive), that we’ll go treeless. But for now, I can’t imagine Christmas without one.

  3. Try washing it off just before you bring it inside–gets rid of some of the dust and pollen that it may have picked up in the tree lot. (Of course it leaves you with a wet tree, but it dries off fairly quickly.)

  4. Love my artificial tree. For the authentic smell I load up on spruce, pine, and juniper branches from my yard to decorate the mantel and dining room table. Even though the kids are long gone from home I’ll probably always put up a tree for my grandchildren, and for me. A lit Christmas tree makes me happy!

  5. I have a smallish home, so the artificial slim tree is for me. I am also allergic to the real trees, so bringing them into my home isn’t an option anymore. My allergies are bad enough without adding another irritant.

  6. Norfolk Island pine. They like their summer vacation. You can get small ones, but have to donate them to an institution with space to keep them after a few years in the north, or get a bigger house.

  7. After 35 years, this will be the first Christmas without a tree. It will also be the first Christmas where the entire family gathered at our house. The boys are grown, married, have their own homes and families. This year, we’ll spend a few days with the youngest and his bride and then move on to the oldest and his.

    We’ve put up some decorations but, for the first time, no tree. Feels strange. Not sure how I feel about it. I’ve decided that this year is not a new tradition. It’s just what we’re doing this year.

    Who knows, next year, maybe we’ll all gather at a ski resort? Or maybe momma in her kerchief and me in my cap will go off to London and celebrate a Dickens Christmas with figgy pudding and roast goose.

    Change happens.

  8. We have friends that used to put up a huge tree in the main room of the house – can’t remember when it went from real (cut) to artificial. But as the children grew up and moved out, we do remember that the tree “grew” smaller and smaller – from filling the bay window, to filling the entrance below the stair, to filling the coffee table, to filling the dining room centerpiece. Then it “grew” to become a miniature made from glass with tiny ornaments, about the size of one for a large doll house. So we have copied them, and I take out the box containing a tiny tree for Dear Husband’s desk, another small tree for the display cabinet in the entry, and another one for the top of the piano. There! We’re done decorating, and nearly every room has a tree!

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