By Bev Johnson

Master Gardener

During the second world war, metal Christmas trees were all the rage.  You couldn’t hang lights on them for fear of electrocution.  To light them, you would have a spotlight with revolving-colored lenses facing the tree.  The boughs folded up against the stem to store.  OF course, a few of the “needles” would be left in the carpet at the end of the season.  The vacuum cleaners of the day had a hard time swallowing those darn needles and you would be picking them out of the carpet fibers until Labor Day. 

Artificial trees have come a long way since then.  They are pre-lit, flocked, and about any size, shape, and “species” you can think of.  They are made of petroleum, smell like plastic, need to be stored after Christmas and are not recyclable.  You can reuse them for a few years before they start looking shabby, then what?  Stick them in the garden for the birds to nest in?  No self-respecting bird is going to nest in a plastic tree.  Decorate it with plastic flowers and call it “uninstallation”?  Bet your neighbors would have something to say about that.  You could probably train a vine to cover the darn thing.  In the end, you will have to send it to the landfill.  There it will live, forever. 

There is no substitution for the fragrance and beauty of a real Christmas tree.  Some people question the wisdom of cutting down a living tree just for a few weeks over Christmas.  Don’t feel guilty.  Most of the live trees for sale now are grown on tree farms just for this use.  Over a half million trees are harvested in Minnesota every year.  They are shipped to every state in the union, even Hawaii.  Can you imagine what they pay for a Minnesota tree, shipped from here? Ouch!  But pay they do, just to have a real Christmas tree.

Tree farms benefit the local economy.  They also aid the environment in several ways.  Each acre of living Christmas trees adds enough oxygen into the air to supply the needs of 18 people, and there are at least a million acres growing them as a renewable crop across the United States.  These trees are usually grown on land that is poorly suited to the more intensive production of food crops. 

Depending on the variety, it can take as few as 7 or 8 years or as many as 12 to 15 years to grow a Christmas Tree to market size.  As the trees are cut, more are planted to take their place so there is never bare soil.  The roots of the trees help stabilize the soil preventing erosion.  They provide shelter to wildlife and give the native birds a nice condo to raise their broods in. 

After the holidays, many Christmas trees are collected and chopped up for mulch.  However, there are other uses.  Clip off the branches while the tree is still in its holder, this will make it much easer to remove from the room.  Use the branches around your foundation if you have planted it.  This will help keep the soil cooler in the spring, so your tulips don’t get frozen noses by popping up too soon.  It will also help keep the wind from drying our care soil if we don’t get good snows.  The naked stem can be used in the garden for peas to climb on.  Or prop up one of those floppy lilies in the flowerbed.  If you like to have bonfires, they smell great when burned.  In the spring, the needles will have fallen off the branches adding a nice smelling addition to the mulch.

The smell of a real tree is the smell of Christmas.