Tree Care and Which is Better?

Tree Care First

If you are purchasing your tree for the very first time, here are some helpful hints to prolong its beauty and sustainability.

1. Since a tree can be placed to be seen from all sides or up against a wall, be sure the placement is in the best interest of the tree. Keep it away from heat sources, such as, fireplaces, heat vents, radiators, TV’s and away from swinging doors.

2. Make sure your tree can fit on the car for the ride home and in your house once it is home. Too big is not the best choice.

3. Research your tree. Some hold needles far longer than others, so it may depend when you what to erect your tree for longer durability.

4. Select a fresh tree without excessive needle loss. Some interior loss is to be expected and occurs on trees still planted firmly in the ground. And, when you take it home, keep it out of the sun and wind in a cool location, such as an unheated porch or garage.

Then, when you decide the time to decorate is right, make a one inch cut at the base of the trunk and place it in a bucket of warm water. Bring it inside after the tree soaks up the water. Once inside, place it in the stand full with water.

5. Always keep the stand full with water. A seal of sap will develop if the tree is without water for more than four hours, necessitating you to re-cut the base of the tree. Avoid all this work. Keep the stand full of water. The tree will absorb more than a gallon the first day and one or more quarts thereafter.

Water keeps the needles from dropping and helps the tree to retain the fragrance.

6. Recycle your tree. Or, place the tree in the yard with suet. The birds will thank you for the fancy dinner and lodging.

Which is Better, Real vs. Artificial

So what number 6 brings up is the question of, “Is a real tree really an eco-friendly choice to make?” Well, this easily understandable chart below, from the National Christmas Tree Association, though biased is probably accurate.

Artificial trees are generally made from non-renewable plastics of petroleum-based products. People may argue that artificial trees last a lifetime, but most are thrown away within ten years to remain in landfill sites for a very long time. My first tree lasted twenty years. Hooray for me.

I have also read that since the artificial tree lasts on average of ten years, subsequently they have a smaller carbon footprint overall than a farm raised tree. I guess I should be giving equal time to the American Christmas Tree Association, sponsoring the artificial tree industry. They do have some salient points as well.

But my friends at the farm may scoff at my bringing them up here, but hey, I own five fake trees and use them each year too. I am an equal opportunity debater. Just kidding, but both sides have great points, although I have to side with the real trees overall.

The National Christmas Tree Association simply charts the difference between Real vs. Artificial Trees. One thing the charts omits is convenience and simplifying the holidays. Hands down Artificial Trees win this one, especially the new pre-lit trees. That is my biggest gripe about real trees. I am the one stringing and positioning lights. Bah humbug.

And here is another point often overlooked. Many of the presents under the tree have been made or assembled overseas and the same may also be true of the artificial tree that stands over them, but what about the stand that both real trees and artificial trees sit in? Made in China?

Also many of our real trees are trucked clear across the country to neighborhood corner lots, not locally grown. Hey, this argument can go both ways, so it is important for you, the reader, to consider all the facts when making your purchase, and determine on your own the validity of these claims.

National Christmas Tree Association Chart: Real vs. Artificial

Real Trees Artificial Trees
  • United States & Canada
  • 85% from China
  • farming
  • factory
  • planting takes place Jan-May
  • raw materials sent to factory & assembled into final product
  • estimated 40-45 million trees planted in 2008 in North America
  • product is shipped to U.S. then distributed to stores
  • estimated 446 million trees growing on farms in U.S.
  • number of factories unknown
  • tree farms support complex eco-systems
  • factories only consume natural resources
  • plant tissue
  • plastics and metals
  • 100% biodegradable
  • non-biodegradable
  • Yes
  • No
  • Yes
  • No (lead is used in the process of making PVC plastic)
  • Yes
  • No
  • trees absorb carbon dioxide
  • plastic is a petroleum byproduct
  • when decomposing, carbon, nitrogen and other elements are released into soil
  • No
  • Yes
  • Scientists have measured cut Christmas trees for chemical residue and not found any significant amounts
  • PVC itself is a dangerous chemical
  • Many different bugs, fungi and parasites can attack and kill trees, so farmers may use pesticides to keep consumers’ trees healthy and alive until harvest
  • Manufacture of PVC creates and disperses dioxins, the most toxic man-made chemical known
  • Most pesticides are ground applied
  • Released into air or water, dioxins enter the food chain, where they accumulate in fatty tissues of animals and humans, a potential risk for causing cancer, damaging immune functions and impairing children’s development
  • Herbicides are used to suppress, not kill off, weeds to prevent soil erosion
  • If someone tells you “there are chemicals on cut Christmas trees” they are wrong
  • Recycled
  • Landfill
  • Used trees can be recycled in a variety of ways
  • Fake trees can’t be recycled and end up in landfills
  • Decomposing trees add nutrients back into the earth
  • All of the accumulated fake trees are a burden to the environment indefinitely
  • Yes
  • No
  • New trees are planted every year
  • Petroleum, used to make plastic, is a non-renewable resource, as are metals
  • Yes
  • No

There are benefits to purchasing a farm grown tree, not least of which is supporting local growers like my friends at Erway’s Christmas Tree Adventure.

The trees are recyclable. Many municipalities offer a recycling programs through their parks departments and provide convenient curbside pickup. Some communities will offer a service to chip your tree into biodegradable mulch, which can be used for gardens and kid’s play lots.

If your tree is chipped, make sure to allow the chipped matter to sit for a year and decompose. Used immediately, the chipped tree will need nitrogen by the microorganisms to enable the decomposition process and this will remove the nitrogen from the soil for your plants.

Whole trees are used on beaches in areas prone to shore erosion for prevention, which I have seen, and in lakes, streams and ponds to provide habitat and feeding areas for our aquatic life, which I have only read about but makes great sense.

Real trees grow back, artificial trees do not reproduce on their own, at least not from a seed anyway. Seeing them come off the assembly line makes you kinda wonder though. It does look like an alien invasion with them reproducing almost spontaneously, marching down the line.

North American forests cover about the same area of land as they did 100 years ago. In the last decade, the forests have expanded by nearly 10 million acres. I read these facts somewhere in trade literature, so again it may not be completely accurate. For every tree harvested, up to three more are planted on tree farms to ensure a renewable supply for generations to come.

This I have seen first hand as my friends three tree farms grow and expand.

Consider helping the reforesting by buying and planting a potted Christmas Tree this year. Even a little Alberta Spruce can one day grow to 8 feet like mine in my back yard after 15 years. This little baby was one I decorated for a Christmas present for a client. It is now over four feet tall. Here, it is only eighteen inches.

My concolor was such a tree. A little potted cutie. See it above with two little artificial trees in 2009? I made and painted the big bow. That is my office decorated as a big lighted package.

Granted when the Concolor gets to be eleven feet tall, it will be my indoor tree, but by selectively pruning, it has remained shrub size for many years and has lived in my front yard festively decorated for the holiday.

And they are just so darn cute at this age, you just want one like when you see a puppy and go awe… But remember, they need special care and can not be in the house for more than week; keep the house cool too.

The real problem is that the trees are settling in for winter and dormancy or a slowing down occurs. Fluids slow, but do not stop in conifers. But tender buds do get the idea spring is coming as the tree warms inside the home, and this damages the tree when it is put back outside.  Also the tree dries very quickly too. So the less time indoors the better.

And get your hole dug early before the ground freezes. You will have to have your new live tree healed in for winter.

Plus, think about you carpets and floors. Trees need water and the growers pots are usually fiber pots, like you see above, and will leak through. Have a BIG saucer underneath while your tree anchors you holiday decor.

Real trees grow by taking in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and releasing clean oxygen back into the environment. Artificial trees, NOT. And who can argue clean oxygen as a byproduct.

Artificial Grand Fir

Real Grand Fir

Real Trees have tradition and great childhood memories. You don’t see photos of kids jumping up and down in glee at the sight of presents piled under an artificial tree much before 1960 when many of these memories were born. But, then again traditions change and many of us have memories under a shiny silver tree too.

Artificial trees will look Martha Stewart perfect year after year. But not being perfect is what makes a real tree unique and aesthetically pleasing. From a designer point of view, not being perfect is better. That is my main aesthetic objection to artificial trees, it is like making everything symmetrical in a space. Just boring.

Well, I ( and the National Christmas Tree Association and the American Association of Christmas Trees ) have left you with much to think about, and I know there is a lot of other points to make both pro and con for both sides, but, I love real trees at Christmas, and since I have been working with the wonderful hardworking people at the farm, and seeing the new little trees planted each year, I feel much less guilty about my choice. I still do cringe when watching my tree fall, but I know the replacement tree is only a springtime away.

See Green Apples, The Buck Stops Here for some pretty photos of the deer at the farm. The kids are feeding the does too!

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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24 Responses to Tree Care and Which is Better?

  1. Marguerite says:

    What a wonderfully researched post. You’ve made good points for either choice but I admit I’m a real tree gal and will never look the other way. I’m very fortunate though as I’m able to buy my Christmas tree from a local grower and we are also provided with free tree pick up from home for chipping. It makes the choice a no brainer.

    • You are lucky to have the pickup. Our city does it too and if we want mulch, I think we can get it from them. Many local communities have a yard for residents to get mulch. I felt I had to make a case for both trees, since I have both every year.

  2. You did it, Donna, what a great post! All the arguments both pro and con in one easily read package. Live trees are the essence of buying local. They preserve open space from development and keep family farms in business. Not to mention that getting them is an experience to treasure, which doesn’t compare with getting the fake one from the attic. I can’t imagine having to dust my tree…..Carolyn

  3. When I read the title, I thought “are you kidding?” Real! Every. time. I will always have a real tree. Even if I have to set aside money to pay someone to go buy me one, decorate it and come take it down.

  4. I have an artificial tree. When it comes to pesky pets, especially my naughty cats, artificial is better since they like to nibble on foliage and dunk their paws into any saucer of water. They also like to climb inside the tree, but they don’t have as easy of a time with metal as compared to wood that they can sink their claws into. It would be a never ending battle to keep them off a real tree.

    Still, it would be nice to have a real tree. I’m considering purchasing an adaptable live tree from a local nursery. My only gripe with the selection is the lack of fragrance. Ah well… One definite advantage of having a real tree is storage. Artificial trees are a pain to store.

  5. Dear Donna, This is the BEST article I have read about Christmas trees. You did not miss anything out! I learned some new information… My daughter wonders why her balled tree doesn’t survive when planted. Now I can tell her it may be because she keeps it in the house too long. I have a real tree and a very small artificial one. I love this tradition and love your post! Pamela x

  6. lifeshighway says:

    Donna, a well written article on Christmas tree and a very fair debate on the the real/artificial tree argument. I really was following all the math and charts and logic but kept being distracted by the giant bear.

  7. Dear Donna. Awesome detail on the christmas tree – I realise it is December and I need to get on with all the preperations. I have been very distracted from blogging as I have had dog tragedies. Check my blog

    • I just came back from your blog. I am so saddened and literally speechless. I can not imagine the loss. Losing a dog in this manner is reprehensible. The guy should be shot. I am so sorry for you and your beloved Crumpet.

  8. wonderful post Donna, you are always so good at info and giving both sides, I like real trees, Frances

  9. Gail says:

    I love real trees and will have one as long as we have a tree. I am actually sensitive to whatever chemicals are on artificial trees and got horrific headaches after putting one up the two years we had one. Thank you for the great info. gail

  10. Autumn Belle says:

    I’d like to have both a real tree and an artificial tree and a potted one to plant on the ground after the season is over. Nice to start a tradition of happy memories for the future. Imagine a growing tree as a daily reminder of all the goodness of Christmas spent with loved ones.

  11. Kala says:

    I love real trees but we’ve had an artificial one for years now. Thanks for the informative post.

  12. Jennifer says:

    Hi Donna, I find it really hard to decide on where to stand in the real vers artificial Christmas tree dilemma. You make some very good points here. I had no idea that most people only kept there artificial tree for 10 years. I find it scary to think about all those fake trees clogging up landfill sites.
    We have an artificial tree, but I love the fresh smell of a real tree in the house. Some years it is nice to have the special treat of a real tree.

  13. Bom says:

    Excellently researched post, Donna. We don’t really use live trees locally. Mostly I think because our pines don’t have that “christmas tree shape”. The cut, live trees used locally are still shipped from overseas! Too, with the tropical weather, even in Christmas, the trees easily dry up. Not good in a country where Advent seems to be the start of the Christmas season and not the season before Christmas. My wife did go eco-friendly last year and so we had potted Araucaria in the of the living room and dining room and outside. This year, the Araucaria are still in their original pots but are outside by the driveway gate. An artificial tree is in the living room which now looks much more “Christmas-y” than last year. I wish I could show you the difference through pictures. Your trees look wonderful, BTW.

  14. Hi Donna – I love REAL Christmas trees – they take me back to my childhood when artificial trees were just “Not done” in my parents’ home. I too prefer a real tree but have not had either real of fake for the last ten years because my cat can’t resist pulling the decorations and whole tree down! So last year we tried an eco-friendly cardboard type tree and he pretty much ignored it, so we might be ready to try a tree again – of course it would have to be a real one 🙂

  15. I just wanted to add to my previous comment that I learned the hard way about the tree forming a crust if out of water for more than 4 hours. I did that two years ago and the tree never sucked up another drop and went brown. Last year I was much more diligent and finally took the tree down at the end of January even though it looked like it was just cut. The owners of our tree farm keep their tree up until Easter.

  16. What a great article…I learned so much…love the real trees…so much better

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