Dec. 4, 2012

The holidays are a time for lots of buying decisions, which makes it a perfect time to go green. What better way than to start with the tree.

Many consumers still face the annual question of whether it is better for the planet to cut down a real tree or buy an artificial one. But Will McClatchey, vice president of research at the Botanical Research Institute in Fort Worth, said there is little room for debate—real trees are better. 

“Absolutely, for lots of reasons,” said McClatchey, who has his PhD in evolutionary biology.   

Artificial trees come in packaging, are generally shipped from China and eventually end up in a land fill, McClatchey said. The whole cycle leads to a higher carbon foot print, and a bigger mpact on the environment.      

In contrast, live Christmas trees come from sustainable farms and are “completely recyclable,” McClatchey said.     

“Those trees are planted for that purpose and in some cases the farms are on land not terribly good for much else,” he said. 

(Above, Concho Tree Farm Christobal, Texas )

McClatchey’s assessment is backed up by several studies, most notably one from Canada that shows consumers must hold onto a fake tree for 20 years before it equals the environmental impact of a real tree.

Unfortunately, North Americans keep their fake trees for just six years, according to the study by Ellipsos, a sustainability development consultant in Montreal. Using the six-year framework, the amount of carbon dioxide emission is much higher for artificial trees.

“The hot topic these days is climate change,” the study reads. “When looking at these impacts, the natural tree contributes to significantly less carbon dioxide emission (39%) than  the artificial tree.” 

More than 30.8 million trees will be cut for Christmas trees this year, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. Natural trees sales outpace artificial trees 3 to 1, the association said.      

And most consumers—31 percent--buy their trees at local farms, according to a survey by the association.

But in North Texas you better act fast. The 2011 drought has still reduced the number of trees available and many households have already been out buying.  Jim Wilson, owner of Main Stay Farms in Cleburne, said he has sold almost all of the 400 trees tagged to be cut this year from his farm of 6,000 trees.      

“We had hordes of families here the weekend after Thanksgiving when we first opened,” he said. “We’re down to our last 10 percent of trees available to cut.”

Wilson said he still had some Virginia Pine and Leyland Cypress available, as well as around 300 of the 550 Frasier firs he had shipped from North Carolina. Next year, he will begin selling a new tree for cutting, a white-barked Arizona Cypress.

“I ordered 1,400 of the trees for planting and they’ll be ready next year,” he said. “The tree is really pretty and doesn’t take as much water to grow.”      

The 2011 drought slowed down some of his tree production, which usually allows for around 700 trees to be available each season, he said. It takes about six years to grow a tree to the holiday size, he said.To find a local farm for your Christmas tree, put your town or zip code into a directory available by the Christmas Tree Association at  

Wilson advises buying a tree that does not sit out in the Texas sun after being cut. After buying, cut ½ inch off the trunk and soak in water. Once inside your home, water daily and keep always from heat vents.

Also see:   Take Your First Green Step for the New Year and Recycle Your Natural Christmas Tree  

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