Over the last 20 years, there has been an increased interest and effort in “being more environmentally friendly”. There are numerous examples of acting in a greener manner such as using recycled materials, buying local and less, cutting back on the use of everyday things such as cars or packaging, or retrofitting our homes for more efficient heating systems.
One decision all those that enjoy Christmas trees can make is to go green with real Christmas trees. If you haven’t yet done so, it is time to plan for the acquisition and care of a live evergreen tree. There is nothing like the smell and look of a natural Christmas tree. Whether one chooses the Maritime traditional favourite – balsam fir – or a pine, one can’t go wrong. When it is lit and decorated in all its splendour, it helps create that special Christmas atmosphere.
Contrary to what some people believe, real Christmas trees – which are a renewable resource that breaks down naturally into our soil as fertilizer – are much more environmentally friendly than artificial trees that are made mostly out of petrochemical products. Just imagine how long it takes an artificial tree to break down in a landfill site when people are finished with it, which statistically is about six years. The artificial trees usually come from China and could contain lead as well. The amount of fossil fuels to get the plastic and metal trees from the Chinese factories to North American stores is staggering. A comparative life cycle assessment by Ellipses Strategists of Montreal determined that natural trees are significantly easier on the environment than artificial trees.
There is no question about the fact that the purchase of a Christmas tree is the best deal of the Christmas season, and perhaps the entire year. Take a moment to consider what it often takes to grow that perfect tree for you: years of planting, shearing and pruning the trees (usually during the heat of summer), fertilizing, pest control, frost, drought and snow challenges, the increasing cost of equipment, the ever-increasing cost of fuel and insurance, marketing, and finally the physically hard work of cutting, hauling, loading and transporting the Christmas trees. It is nothing short of a miracle that if you are purchasing your tree at a tree lot in an urban setting, that you are not paying $100 per tree
There are always those unforeseen things that occur to throw wrinkles into a tree producers plan such as insect infestations, hurricanes, sudden fuel cost increases and early snowstorms. As you can imagine, there’s a big difference between pulling a 10 kg tree versus a 50 kg snow-covered tree out of the woods.
Despite the fact that millions of dollars worth of Christmas trees are harvested annually in this province, many of those that are involved with producing them are not in it for a big profit. Sadly, when one considers all the time and costs required to produce and market their trees, the dollar value for their time can likely be counted in cents versus dollars per hour; not nearly what it should be for the time and effort required.
The larger the size of the cultivated tree, the more time and effort that is required to grow and shape the tree over the years. Therefore, the larger trees are more valuable than their smaller cousins.
Most average size Christmas trees that are seven to eight feet tall are usually eight to 12 years old. This is not something you can produce in one or two years. Like maple syrup producers, Christmas tree producers have a love for what they are doing.
Whether you are going “to the woods” or to the downtown corner to get your Christmas tree, following are a few tree care tips:
* If you are going to cut trees in the forest, make sure you first get permission from the landowner. A family trip to a U-cut operation is time well spent as you search for that one perfect specimen. In u-cut lots there are always many nice trees to choose from of different dimensions and grades.
* If you purchase a tree that has been previously cut, ask how long ago it was cut, and if you are choosing between two candidates, choose the one most recently cut in order to acquire the freshest tree.
* If you are storing your tree for a while before bringing it inside, it is important to keep it outdoors in order to keep it cold and in a dormant stage, and therefore fresh. If, for some reason, you must bring it inside for storage, you should cut a section off the stem (one centimetre or more) and immediately immerse the stem in water for the entire time until you are ready to use it.
* When you are ready to bring the tree inside to put on its stand, cut a section off the stem to increase the uptake of water and then fill up your stand immediately after securing your tree to the stand.
* It is important to use a large, stable tree stand that can hold six or more litres of water. It is amazing that over the first few days, a freshly cut tree can take in three to five litres of water per day. It is essential that the tree is able to continually take up water in order to keep it as fresh as possible. Therefore, you should check and fill up your tree stand water supply daily.
* The water in the tree stand should be fresh water only, with no additives, despite the old myths that you may have heard.
* Carefully choose the room location for your tree, away from heat vents and open flames. Heat will obviously put additional drying stress on the tree.
Don Cameron, RPF, is a registered professional forester and long-time resident of Truro