Garden View: The case for fresh cut trees

ASHLEY GREGORY | SPECIAL TO THE MONITOR

I love the idea of bringing nature indoors and still fondly recall making the trip to cut our own tree every year as a kid growing up in Tennessee. Those memories are surely why I always insist on a fresh Christmas tree.

However, there are fewer and fewer people buying fresh cut trees. According to a survey conducted by the American Christmas Tree Association, only 19 percent of the 95 million trees sold in 2017 were real trees.

Today’s artificial trees have the advantages of being pre lit, no mess, reusable and come with the gratification of saving a tree from being cut down. While there is little to dispute about most of those benefits, we can argue that cutting down a tree is not always a bad thing; especially if that tree is planted and harvested as a crop.

Fresh cut Christmas trees are grown as crops in all 50 states, including Texas and are renewable, recyclable and sustainable. For every tree that is cut, one to three new trees will be planted the following spring. Additionally, during production they sequester carbon, help clean the air and protect the soil and wildlife habitat. The National Christmas Tree Association estimates that there are about 400 million live Christmas trees being grown on farms across the U.S. annually.

While artificial trees are reusable, most contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is known to release carcinogens during production and disposal. Additionally, because of the fused copper, steel and plastic they are not easily recyclable, do not biodegrade and are typically imported from overseas.

Several studies have been conducted to weigh the environmental impacts of fresh cut and artificial trees. One study concluded that compared on a one time use basis, a fresh cut tree had less of an environmental impact than an artificial one, but after reusing for 5 years or more the artificial tree would have less of an environmental impact. Yet another study concluded that the artificial tree would have to be reused for up to 20 years to have less of an impact.

There are at least 65 farms in Texas growing Christmas trees. Many of these places provide activities such as hayrides, Santa visits, food, tours, and arts and crafts truly making it a memorable experience for the entire family. While these farms might not be close enough to pick up a tree, you might enjoy the experience of just visiting during your holiday vacation. Check out texaschristmastrees.com to find a Texas tree farm.

As producers try to keep up with the trends, more environmentally friendly options are becoming available; such as decorating live trees that can be planted in the landscape afterwards and even live tree rentals which allow the trees to be reused for several years until they are too large and then planted in ground.

These studies are often swayed by the groups who fund them and I’ll leave it to you to make up your own mind, but there is no doubt that buying local and recycling is the most environmentally friendly thing you can do.

If you want to make sure your tree is recycled, you can drop it off at either the McAllen Composting Facility on Rooth Road or the McAllen Recycling Center on Bentsen Road. Whatever type of tree you gather around this year, it’s the people you’re with that make the season warm and bright. Happy Holidays.

Ashley Gregory is the Horticulturalist for Hidalgo County with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. She can be reached at the Hidalgo County Extension Office at (956) 383-1026 or by email at ahgregory@ag.tamu.edu.