I have been writing this Potting Shed column for nearly 16 years and those of you who have been reading them are probably well aware of my predilection for a live tree for the holidays. I am also keenly aware that the demographics of our Camden Community are constantly changing and we now have many new residents, and a younger and more diverse population, who may not be aware that the preference for a live tree is not just for traditional reasons but because it is a more environmentally friendly choice over an artificial tree. And the Christmas tree industry is a big part of the Minnesota economy.
While originally Christmas trees were taken from forests, today 98 percent of Christmas trees are grown on tree farms, an industry that employs more than 100,000 people. Over half a million trees are cut annually in Minnesota and most are shipped all across the nation. Minnesota has provided the national Christmas tree on more than one occasion and Minnesota trees are even shipped to Hawaii where people pay dearly for them. If you go out and cut your own or buy a pre-cut tree at a lot, you are buying local and helping our local economy. Who even knows where those artificial trees are made!
Not only do growing trees aid our economy, but it also helps us environmentally. Trees are a renewable resource and for each tree that is cut 2-3 seedlings are planted, which is about 73 million in the U.S. each year. A tree takes between 7-12 years to reach market size depending on the variety. According to Rebecca Montgomery, Assistant Professor of the University of Minnesota’s Department of Forest Services, an acre of Christmas trees can remove about 8,000 pounds of carbon from the atmosphere and produces enough oxygen for 18 people each year.
The trees are usually grown on land that is unsuitable for any type of food crop and the tree roots help to prevent the erosion of the soil. The growing trees also provide shelter for birds and other wildlife. 93 percent of live trees are recycled after the holidays. The City of Minneapolis will pick up trees after the holidays and they will be chipped and used as wood mulch in our gardens and for newly planted trees. Or you can prop the tree up in the snow, sprinkle it with bird seed and it will serve as a habitat and feeder for birds throughout the winter.
It turns out that those artificial trees really aren’t permanent after all. Their average “life span” is between 5-7 years and then they spend the next 100 years in a landfill!
One reason some people chose to go the artificial route is because they don’t like the mess of falling needles. This doesn’t have to be the case if you make sure your tree has ample water the entire time that it is in your house. Whether you cut your own or buy one off the lot make sure you make a fresh cut just before you bring the tree into the house. Water the tree immediately once it is in the tree stand and check it twice daily the first few days. The tree will take in large amounts of water as it warms up to the indoor climate. After a few days it will take less; nevertheless be sure to check the water level daily. Never let the reservoir run dry, or the tree will form a seal over the bottom of the trunk and will no longer be able to absorb water. That’s when the needles will begin to fall. And incidentally you don’t need to add anything to the water – just plain H20 is what the tree needs.
If you choose to have a tree as part of your holiday celebration I hope you will consider a live one this year.