Trees for Christmas? Get Real!


Support Local Farmers

Until recently, Christmas trees were almost exclusively cut from the forest.  Today, they are a crop.  According to the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA), "North American real Christmas trees are grown in all 50 states and Canada."

Christmas trees are a renewable resource, they are recyclable, and
like all trees, they provide lots of much-needed oxygen while growing
in the earth.  According to the NCTA, there are some "500,000 acres in
production for growing Christmas Trees in the U.S.", and "each acre
provides the daily oxygen requirements of 18 people."  That’s great
news for those of us ranting away our daily allotment.

Crop Christmas trees provide a source of income for our farmers,
which means that buying a real Christmas tree each year, especially
when purchased from a local farm, serves to support your local economy,
and the local growers who work there.  Those concerned about pesticides
and fertilizers can find increasing numbers of organic Christmas tree
farms.  There are even farmers offering Christmas trees online for home

To find local Christmas trees check out your local farms, ask your
neighbors, check the NCTA website, or simply Google "Christmas trees

Reduce Waste and Recycle

As a renewable resource, real Christmas trees come full circle back
to the soil through community recycling programs.  Local organizations
collect, chip, and mulch those lovely green honeys who make our homes
so cheery and bright for the season.  You can even toss that Christmas
tree carcass out in your own backyard, and let Nature do her thing in
her own sweet time.

Fake, plastic Christmas trees are an entirely different breed of
cat.  I won’t bore you with all the toxins in these toilet-bowl-brush
descendents.  You can read about it yourselves at the NCTA page on fake trees.
Plastic trees can only go one place when they are done – the trash –
and we all know that story.  Ranters can comment of course, but the
only strong cases I can find for using a fake, plastic Christmas tree
would be for those with allergies to evergreens, and those who live in
dwellings which prohibit Christmas trees.  Fake, plastic trees are not
an environmentally-sound alternative to real Christmas trees.

And for the love of light, don’t put your live Christmas tree out
for the trash collection!  Be prepared by planning now for your tree
disposal.  If you do not wish to reuse it in your own garden, look for
a local recycling program at your city/borough/county/community
website, your local department of public works website, or your local
Boy Scout office or community center.

You can also get fast information at Earth911 – Treecycling, or by calling the Earth911 United States EnvironmenBluespruce_3tal Recycling Hotline at 1-877-EARTH911 or 1-800-CLEANUP.

Plant Trees

I can hear all you tree-huggers now, "But how can you, Jade, an
advocate of forest conservation and self-proclaimed tree-lover, support
the use of real cut Christmas trees!?"  My friends, apart from the
benefits you’ve read above, there is yet another reason to love real
Christmas trees: live Christmas trees!

Each year at my home we plant an evergreen tree in our yard for
Christmas.  This tree usually comes in the house for a week, is
decorated, be-gifted, and then planted a few days later (provided the
ground isn’t frozen).  Apart from a few basic considerations for a live
evergreen tree in winter (which you can read about at the NCTA page for live tree care tips),
it is incredibly easy and rewarding to use a healthy, growing evergreen
to celebrate the season many times over, both in the home and in the

More Green Alternatives

Don’t have room in your yard for another tree?  Don’t celebrate
Christmas?  If you are not able or willing to plant a live tree in your
yard, you can share it with your neighbor, donate it to your local
school, or simply balance the fresh cut tree in your living room with a
donation to American Forests.

American Forests allows donors to contribute to a variety of ReLeaf Programs, or through the Trees for the Holidays program,
for which every $1.00 plants one tree.  If you select the latter
option, the beneficiary receives a nifty little certificate with a
message like, "Happy Winter to the Greeny Family!  American Forests has
planted 25 trees in your name.  Love, Jade."

I know I said I wouldn’t slog you with my philosophical musings, but
there is something ineffable and wonderful about the presence of a
green, fresh tree in the home during the dark and dormant months.  This
"je ne sais quoi" is part of the magic of the evergreen, which reminds
us that the sun will return next season to coax forth our gardens once
again.  Leave the plastic on the shelves, and go get your hands dirty!

Images photographed by Jade L. Blackwater, © 2006.


  1. I couldn’t agree more 🙂 I grew up with nothing but plastic trees (and one of those god-awful tinsel trees for a while—I know some people just love those, but, ugh!) and never even experienced a real tree until I started dating my husband. His mom puts up a real tree every year, and now we do, too. There is nothing like it!
    There are some other ways to deal with the tree after you’re done: you can cut off the branches and lay them over some of your more tender perennials, or, you can lean the tree up against a fence or garage to offer shelter for the birds in the freezing weather.

    Great rant, Jade.

  2. Great post! I’ve been baffled to read that some people object to cutting down a tree from Xmas tree farms. These aren’t trees taken out of wild forests. They’re from tree farms, not much different than farms that grow lettuce or broccoli for your consumption.

    The local family-owned tree farm we buy from each year is keeping alive the small-farmer tradition. Surely their land would be paved over with big-box stores and gas stations by now if they weren’t making at least a small profit while keeping the land rural and green. Let’s support that!

    And the City of Austin will pick up trees at the curb after Xmas, mulch them, and turn them into Dillo Dirt, a compost made and sold right here in Austin.

    Aside from all that, you are right that a real Xmas tree brings a little more joy to the season.

  3. Thank you for writing this. In 1995 we planted 25 Scotch Pine trees on our tree farm for our own use. We enjoyed the planting of the trees, we watched them grow, we have a tradition of cutting our own tree, we have the look and smell of a real tree and I have protection for my garden in the winter. This year, my teenage son took over the selection, cutting and trimming the tree.

  4. In certain local counties (Northern Virginia) – REAL trees are illegal in multi-family dweelings (i.e. apartments) as they are a fire hazard. I’m not sure how many other places have this law, but I’d imagine more and more will then the law will spread to single-family dwellings. I’d keep an eye out on your local town and county council agendas.

  5. Absolutely! Chopping up my little Christmas tree and adding it to the compost pile on New Year’s Eve is one of my favorite Christmas traditions. It makes my compost pile smell wonderful for a good month!

  6. We burned the last branches of my first ever “real” tree about a month ago during an unseasonably warm spell. It made autumn fires smell wonderful–and made for good chipmunk habitat as it dried out.

  7. Great article. I had artificial trees for years, but missed the smell and ambiance (yes, energy too) of a real tree.

    I have a friend in the tree farm business, too…in upstate NY…they just love it. Not only is it great being able to work outdoors among the trees, but meeting all the people who buy trees from them…it’s really special.

    In my area (Central OR) the Boy Scouts put a baggie with a tag on everyone’s doorknob. If you put $5.00 in in the baggie and put the baggie on your discarded tree in your front yard, they will pickup and take to recycling for you. Easy for me, money for them, tree gets recycled…good for everyone!

  8. I’m glad that this article rang true for so many of you. It was fun to write about something so dear to me. Thanks also to all the everyone for sharing the many thoughts on other creative ways to recycle and/or reuse a real Christmas tree in the garden.

    One of my readers has asked whether there are laws against disposing of your live tree in your backyard – has anyone encountered that?

    Kathy Jentz, yes indeed! As I wrote this, my research turned up several instances where folks in some single family dwellings and apartments may not be permitted to use live trees (but that’s one of the few instances where I can see the value of an artificial alternative).

    Interestingly enough, if you visit the NCTA’s page on fake trees, you’ll see that some research shows the plastic trees to be even more flammable than a well-cared for cut-tree.

    One of my readers at Arboreality says she decorates her tree-shaped rosemary in the absence of a tree; in years past when I’ve been in apartments or small dwellings, I’ve decorated my bigger houseplants in lieu of a tree!

    Thank you again to Susan, Amy, and Michele for inviting me back for a rant. 😉

  9. Speaking of rosemary, last year a couple ribbons and dreidels turned mine into a Hanukkah bush.

    Indoor plants during the darker months add life and presense to the home (and keep the delicate ones from freezing :).

  10. Since my in-laws live in a rural area where fireworks are legal, we save our tree and let it dry out, then tie firecrackers to it and set them off at midnight on New Year’s. We keep a hose handy of course. It’s quite a sight, and whatever’s left (not much) after the tree burns goes into the compost pile. Beats Auld Lang Syne by a mile.

  11. I disagree. There’s something crass about cutting a robust and healthy tree to keep indoors for 2-3weeks and then pitch to the sidewalk with the rest of the trash. It’s not about whether you like trees or not but rather if everything ought to be hastily labeled as “resources”. I do believe that someday this kind of thing will be viewed as a tasteless excess of a bygone age. There’s no shortage of mulch in the world and there’s got to be better ways to keep our local farmers in the green.

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