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For those of us trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle, this time of year poses yet another green dilemma. One of the most common reasons for buying an artificial tree is their longevity. Although artificial trees do get credit for their re-usability, an important factor in environmental stewardship, eventually they are discarded where they remain in a landfill forever more.
I certainly respect there are circumstances where artificial trees are more appropriate for certain users. Moreover, if you already have one, discarding it prematurely is not environmentally responsible either. However, when the opportunity presents itself, think twice before opting for artificial Christmas trees as the greener option, because they’re not.
Part of what makes artificial trees so sturdy are the components used in their construction. PVC plastics are made from petroleum by products, heavy metals are used to stabilize the plastics and the metal branches are mined from the earth. In California, warning labels are even required on artificial trees to alert users of the potential risk of hazardous materials…including lead. And the idea of buying local and supporting area businesses doesn’t apply to artificial trees. Most are made in China, shipped across the Pacific and then travel many more miles to reach their final destination.
If you haven’t figured out by now, contrary to a common misconception, live trees are a better environmental choice. At any moment, there are approximately half a billion trees growing for future harvest that otherwise would not be there. While growing, they’re absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, stabilizing soil and providing habitats for wildlife.
As trees are harvested, new trees are planted to take their place. And unlike artificial trees, real trees can often be purchased from local farms. After they have served their purpose they can be utilized as a mini-habitat for wildlife or hauled off and shredded for compost.
But the best option is a live Christmas tree you can plant in your yard. Over the last several years, the popularity of living Christmas trees has
been on the rise. But many of these trees don’t survive the holiday season. Knowing how to choose, plant, and care for a live Christmas tree will make for a happier holiday, and a valuable addition to your landscape.
When purchasing your tree, select a variety known to grow well in your area. Consider the mature height and width of the tree and know where you will plant it in your landscape. Particularly in areas where the ground freezes, consider preparing the planting hole in advance of freezing weather.
Once home, your tree needs to stay outside, in a protected area, until a few days before Christmas. Water the tree immediately and make sure the soil is kept moist, but not wet. It also needs to be sheltered from high winds and full sun. The objective is to acclimate your tree to warmer temperatures over a period of three to four days.
Avoid the temptation to bring your tree indoors too early. In fact, the less time indoors the better. One or two days before Christmas is best, but no more than a week! And be sure to move your tree back outdoors as soon as possible after Christmas. However, don’t immediately plant it. The tree will need to readjust to outdoor conditions in a protected area for several days.
Plant this tree as you would any other, following sound planting practices. The hole should be at least twice as wide as the root ball, but no deeper, even slightly higher is better. Contrary to conventional information it is not advisable to amend your planting hole with organic matter. Rather, backfill with the original, well-pulverized soil.
Finally, be sure to water and mulch your tree to retain moisture. Continue to monitor soil moisture. Winter conditions can be very dry, and your plants and trees need water now as well, especially newly planted ones.
So if you’ve made the choice to go with a live tree instead of an artificial one, the proper care and planning, before and after the holidays, will help ensure your tree survives for years to come. Just not in the landfill!