Roots and Shoots: Have a Merry, Green Christmas

By Pamela Doan

It’s a sign of the season that local garden centers are lining up rows of freshly cut spruce and fir trees. With Thanksgiving coming later in the month than usual, many people will head out this weekend to choose one. There’s always a debate for conscientious consumers about how to have a do-no-harm or at least a do-less-harm holiday. When it comes to the tree, personal preference definitely comes into play when choosing between artificial vs. live, but some argue that one is more environmentally friendly than the other, too.

Artificial trees can be used year after year, don’t require a new investment while they last, and no live trees are cut down. However, most are made from PVC, a material that doesn’t biodegrade and uses oil in production. China is the largest producer of artificial trees and that adds in a significant carbon-producing shipping distance, too.

christmas treeReal trees, in their life cycle, aid in reducing carbon dioxide. According to Earth911, “A single farmed tree absorbs more than 1 ton of CO2 throughout its lifetime.” Real trees can be mulched after the holiday and don’t end up in a landfill. Tree farms have a valuable role in our communities, too, keeping land forested and undeveloped. While an informal survey didn’t uncover tree farms in Putnam County, there were several options listed in neighboring counties. At many, you can even cut your own.

For a complete list, check out this website. I called a couple of local garden centers, Vera’s Marketplace and Garden Center and Sabellico Greenhouse and Florist, and neither had a local source for their stock. Many Christmas trees are shipped from Canada.

Another option is to bring home a potted, live tree that can be planted in the yard after Christmas. Sabellico has potted trees in all sizes from tabletop to full size available. To prepare it for transplant, dig the hole now before the ground is completely frozen. Make a hole about double the depth of the root ball and leave sufficient room on the sides. Evergreens generally prefer sunny locations. Mix compost into the soil if you can.

After the holiday, move the tree to a sheltered spot outside, preferably the garage, to let it acclimate from the warm house to the cold outdoors for a few days before planting. Keep it watered well throughout. When you’re ready, hopefully there aren’t a few feet of snow on the ground, place it in the hole and water it well again. If it’s on the small side and you’re in a heavy browsing area for deer, protect it with fencing or deer-resistant spray. Spruce trees are less likely to be nibbled on, but fir trees will make a snack during winter.

If you’ve got a little space in the yard and want the experience of growing your own tree, check the Putnam County Soil and Water Conservation District, which has an annual seedling sale in the spring. Last year, the list of seedlings available included Colorado Blue Spruce, Eastern White Pine, and White Spruce, all of which would make great Christmas trees. The seedlings come in packs of ten and cost $22. Those prices might shift in 2014, but that’s a little more than $2 per tree. With a little time, care and patience, those seedlings could become your future holiday trees, a truly green solution. For the finishing touch, don’t forget the LED lights!