The Great Christmas Tree Dilemma (Christmas/Holidays Unplugged)

By , November 28, 2007 12:28 am

So you have made your list and decided that a Christmas tree is a tradition that has meaning to you. That’s a good start, but what kind of tree do you get?

I personally have had an artificial tree for years thinking that it was better for the environment than causing the death of a real tree every year. Of course it is the kind of tree with the lights built in because I am a Holiday Slacker when it comes to preparation and one thing I REALLY dislike, is stringing lights.

I am beginning to wonder however about the composition of my Chinese-made tree. I did once see a small label on it warning that pregnant women should avoid prolonged contact with the tree. Huh??? I have been pregnant twice and been hauling the tree up and down from the attic etc. I think that this year might be the Swan Song for our tree. It’ll be a one-way trip from the attic this year.

So if you choose to have a Christmas tree, what should you do?? I think the answer depends on many factors, but here are all the options that I can think of:

1) Buy real cut tree from vendor:

PLUSES: Easy. Real tree (if that is what you want).

MINUSES: Dead tree. Where did tree come from and what chemicals and pesticides was it exposed to? Apparently some growers treat their trees with substances that help keep the needles on, or even green coloring!! Drops needles. Potential fire hazard. Disposal issues.

2) Artificial tree:

PLUSES: Easy, does not cause a tree to die on your behalf. Will last for years.

MINUSES: What is it exuding into the atmosphere of your home? PVC and lead. Can be pricey.

3) Live tree: Many nurseries sell live Christmas trees in pots that you can bring in and decorate for Christmas and then later plant outside in your garden and watch grow. I have done this twice and I really love this idea. However the trees (even smaller ones of just three or four feet) are pretty heavy to move and require temperature transition periods in a garage. Also, you can’t keep them inside for long, a few days at most (although I have also heard that up to seven days is OK).

PLUSES: A tree that will live on and grow happily in your garden for years to come.

MINUSES: Heavy. Can’t be inside for long. Fussy due to transition period. Must plant, therefore requires digging a hole in your (or a friend’s?) garden.

Recommendations for live-tree care:

Living Christmas Trees

How to Care for a Live Christmas Tree

4) Live tree rental: Some companies (few and far between) will rent you a live, potted tree. They deliver it and then pick it up again. After that it goes to a park or school or some other group who, for a nominal fee will accept to have the tree planted on their property. What a win-win! Families can enjoy a live tree without the headache, and parks and other worthy spaces get new trees for a teeny fraction of the cost of buying the trees themselves!

PLUSES: Live tree. No fuss. Help beautify your city.

MINUSES: Not available in very many places. Portland, OR, San Diego, CA, or San Fransisco, CA (no pines though) are the only ones that I know of except for a possible IKEA tree-rental program this year (read on).

I read here that IKEA is renting Christmas trees this year! You must pick it up this weekend between Friday, November 30th through Sunday, December 2nd (bring $24.99 which is actually $14.99 plus a $10.00 deposit, and helpers because these trees are in pots and are heavy). You get a 5 – 7 foot Douglas Fir to enjoy through the holidays. You can then either plant the tree and lose your $10.00 deposit, or return the tree and get your $10 back in the form of an IKEA gift card. If you have a local IKEA you might want to call and verify this information before getting too excited. I read this on a Seattle real-estate blog and couldn’t find anything about it on IKEA’s website. Have any of you heard of this? Sounds good to me!

More tree-rental links:

An Earth-friendly Christmas Tree

Feel Guilty Buying a Christmas Tree? Rent One

5) Cut your own tree: There are many tree farms out there that will allow you to cut your own tree. Also, in my area, the Forest Service sells permits to go out on Forest Service land and cut a tree.

There are also “organic tree farms” out there if you are concerned about supporting tree farms using pesticides and chemicals. Be sure to check this great organic Christmas Tree Farm list from Green Promise to see if there is one near you.

PLUSES: You know it is fresh and real. Could be fun family outing.

MINUSES: Cutting and transporting might be a hassle for some. Killing a tree. Pesticides? Needle dropping and disposal issues.

6) Mail-order trees: Yes, you can order just about anything by mail these days, including your Christmas tree. Real Simple has a link to some mail order Christmas tree farms.


MINUSES: You can’t pick your exact tree. Pricey.

7) Create your own tree: Be artistic and make your own Christmas tree out of wood, real branches or plastic water bottles.

PLUSES: Environmentally friendly. Reusable from year to year.

MINUSES: A plastic water bottle tree?? Hmm.

8) Decorate a houseplant: Why not decorate your ficus? Or any other houseplant that you have?

PLUSES: Environmentally friendly. Inexpensive (you already have the plant). Easy. Reusable from year to year.

MINUSES: It won’t be the classic Christmas evergreen and it might not be as big as some family members would like.

9) Plant your own baby tree for future use: The Yule to be Tree kit gives you a cute baby Scotch Pine that will reach 7-8 feet in six to eight years.

PLUSES: Environmentally friendly. Satisfaction that you grew it yourself.

MINUSES: Requires PATIENCE. If you want one every year, you will need enough yard space to have your own tree farm. Honestly, who wants to watch a tree grow for 8 years in their yard and then chop it down?!!

10) A bonsai or miniature evergreen: Can be purchased at nurseries or through mail-order and should last year round.

PLUSES: Reusable. Easy. Great for small spaces. Environmentally friendly.

MINUSES: Perhaps not good for “non-plant people” since they require year-round care. Small. Can be pricey.

11) Decorate a tree outside: OK. So it won’t be in your living room. But why not decorate a live tree in your yard for you, the neighbors, and all passers-by to enjoy. You could even put on some strung popcorn and peanut butter pine cones for a birds’ Christmas.

PLUSES: Easy. Reusable. Free. Environmentally friendly. Can even help wildlife. Provides enjoyment for others too.

MINUSES: Not in your living room. Not possible if you don’t have a yard with a tree.

11) Forget the tree in your house or yard, and give your Christmas tree money to a charity that plants trees: American Forests plants trees in damaged areas. It costs only $1 per tree ($15.00 minimum) and they send a personalized certificate and holiday greeting if you want to give this as a gift. For example, instead of killing one tree for $30, you could plant 30 new trees for the same amount of money!! The Arbor Day Foundation also does $1 per tree with a certificate ($10.00 minimum).

PLUSES: Increasing the number of trees on this planet. Environmentally friendly. Helping others. No personal care required. Inexpensive. Tax-deductible. Spirit of Christmas?

MINUSES: No tree in your living room.


Other links debating the pros and cons of Christmas trees:

Dreaming of a Green Christmas: Real or Fake Christmas Trees

Second Thoughts-Ghosts of Christmas Trees Past

Peace Signs – Seeking an Environmentally Friendly Christmas Tree

The overwhelming view seems to be that live, potted trees are best. But of course that is not possible for everyone. So read the links above and decide for yourself.

Another Christmas tree link:

Selection and Care of Christmas Trees

DISPOSAL: Rather than junk your tree and fill up the landfills, seek out a Christmas tree composting program. These are available in most areas. Trees are sent through a wood chipper and turned into garden mulch.

Read all the Christmas/Holidays Unplugged posts here.

Thanks to and photographer sullivan.

13 Responses to “The Great Christmas Tree Dilemma (Christmas/Holidays Unplugged)”

  1. Gattina says:

    You really raked your brain with this yearly problem lol ! I have not much choice, we have to have an artificial one because cats love to climb into trees and five cats in (or on ?) one real Christmas tree is too much. At the beginning of our marriage we had a real big Christmas tree from floor to ceiling with real candles. Now it shrinked to a half sized artificial one with electric lights !

  2. Becky @ Boys Rule My Life says:

    WOW! That’s a lot of tree information! I had no idea! It always seems to come down to which evil is more evil these days. Real or Artificial? Plastic or Paper? Cow’s milk or Soy milk? (I’ve read some awful stuff about soy – especially for boys).

    This year we have an artificial tree (as we have for the last 8 Christmases together). We need a new one though – it’s falling apart. I’ve already started wondering what to do with it disposal wise…

    This was a very interesting post. Thanks for the info!

  3. dawn224 says:

    This totally reminded me of being in college and my roomie and I put a picture of a Christmas tree on our wall, and a JCrew male hottie model at the top for an angel. :)

  4. Lizz says:

    My vote is for live potted trees. I have a great post on them a week or so back on my blog.

  5. amanda says:

    Interesting! Who knew there were many different ways to have (or not have) a Christmas tree. I’ve had everything from a table-top sized potted tree to a 12-foot high real tree to a secondhand artificial tree. It is a fun tradition for us, but we are flexible about how it’s done. You’ve given me lots of food for thought.

  6. Christine says:

    We got our 1st real tree last year. We bought it from the shelter who was selling them to raise money for their rehabilitation programs. These trees are also grown specifically for Christmas – a Christmas tree farm so-to-speak.

    We felt good because we had a real, non-pesticide tree yet our money was going to charity. :D

    After Christmas, we took our tree to the city park, who then chopped it up for gardeners/landscapers to use the chips in the spring – free of charge.

    Great way to go, eh?

  7. greenemother says:

    Oh my goodness, thanks for all the research you did to show us our options for a Christmas tree. All of these ideas are superb! Wow, I’m really going to have to give this one a hard think. I’m so loptsided. I love the farm cut tree but I’ve also done the real tree in a bucket thing. Ahh, I don’t know, because what is really the best option, environmentally speaking?

  8. Tamara says:

    Wow! I did not realize there were so many options.

    The option I was considering was whether to get it a local tree farm or buy one in a lot that was trucked in from who knows where.

    I want to get a local tree since I live in a place where they grow a lot.

    Our local boy schout troop collects trees for a donation – I think they chip it for bark.

  9. Jenny says:

    Wow- you’ve really struck a nerve with this post…everyone loves Christmas trees! We just bought a new fake tree last year, so I’m hoping it’ll be with us for a long time. You can’t beat the smell of real though! I can tell you put a lot of time and effort into this post- it should be required reading for everyone purchasing a new tree.

  10. says:

    So — I know you know where I fit in here. I am an absolute lover of trees and cannot stand the thought that people cut them down each year for the ghastly joy of decorating a dead tree. My mother-in-law insisted on buying a live one last year and I refused to help tie it to the roof of the car – and I was opposed to decorating it. To me, trees have feelings and give back to so much to the world. I beseech anyone who will listen not to buy a cut tree – or cut one themselves.

    A great option is to plant trees – or donate to an organization that plants trees. You can even gift trees via

    (In a non-related note, I was unable to write my name as I normally do here… hmmm)

  11. Daphne says:

    We had a real tree the first year we were married – DH insisted and said Christmas wasn’t Christmas with a fake tree… ha! After finding pine needles in April he vowed never again. We have a little (well 3ft) tree that I put on top of an old table and it is fantastic.

    Another little thought to add to your list – I saw something about aluminum trees that came about after WW2 when everyone was trying to figure out what to do with all the left overs – I bet that with a little looking they’d be fairly easy to find – and I’m willing to bet that they’re made out of recycled materials. Since it’s already shiny there’s no need to use tinsel (a waste if you ask me, but some folks dig it), and since it would reflect light nicely not as many lights would need to be hung. Oh – and since it’s not super flamable like dried up dead trees or the realistic yet fake ones, the fire hazard risk is probably lower also :)

  12. […] The Great Christmas Tree Dilemma (Real? Fake? Living? What […]

  13. […] a bit of background on my eternal Christmas tree angst.  I have always hated the thought of cutting down a living tree to decorate my house for a few […]

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