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How Christmas tree farming affects the environment

In the past, most Christmas trees came from the forest; today over 98% are plantation grown.

Christmas tree farms add oxygen to the atmosphere, provide wildlife habitat, increase soil stability and are very attractive. Christmas trees are frequently planted on barren slopes or other cleared areas where no other crops will grow.

Christmas trees take 4-10 years to mature. During that time, the farmer faces many challenges. Trees can suffer from too little or too much sun or rain, destruction by rodents, insects, disease, hail or fire, and overgrowth from bushes, vines and weeds, or theft from the field.

Christmas trees are shaped by expert farmers through annual pruning. By pruning upward growing branches, the grower can encourage the tree to branch more quickly, and gradually achieve the full bushy appearance consumers look for in a Christmas tree.

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How to select and care for a Christmas tree

Here are a few helpful hints on selecting and caring for a tree, courtesy of the National Christmas Tree Association:

  • Do a freshness test. Gently grasp a branch between your thumb and forefinger and pull it toward you. Very few needles should come off in your hand if the tree is fresh. Shake or bounce the tree on its stump. You should not see an excessive amount of green needles fall to the ground. Some loss of interior brown needles is normal and will occur over the lifetime of the tree.

  • Once you've chosen your tree, keep it in a sheltered, unheated area such as a porch or garage to protect it from the wind and sun until you are ready to decorate it.

  • Before you set up your tree, make a fresh, straight cut across the base of the trunk (about a quarter inch up from the original cut) and place the tree in a tree stand that holds a gallon of water or more.

  • Warning: Keep the tree stand filled with water. A seal of dried sap will form over the cut stump in four to six hours if the water drops below the base of the tree, preventing the tree from absorbing water later when the tree stand is refilled. If a seal does form, another fresh cut will need to be made.

  • A tree will absorb as much as a gallon of water or more in the first 24 hours and one or more quarts a day thereafter. Water is important because it prevents the needles from drying and dropping off and the boughs from drooping. Water also keeps the tree fragrant.

  • In addition, keep your tree away from heat and draft sources like fireplaces, radiators and television sets. Test your light cords and connections before hanging them on the tree to make sure they're in good working order. You don't want to use cords with cracked insulation or broken or empty sockets. Also be sure to unplug the lights before you go to bed or leave the house. Never overload electrical circuits.

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Compare natural and artificial Christmas trees

The best choice has always been the natural choice, a real Christmas tree:

Real Christmas are a benefit to the environment from the time they are planted until after the holiday season when they can be recycled.

Real Christmas trees provide oxygen to the atmosphere while they are growing. Every acre of Christmas trees grown produces the daily oxygen requirement for 18 people.

In the words of the National Christmas Tree Association:

Artificial trees are a petroleum based product that consume vast resources during fabrication. A burden to the environment, artificial trees aren't biodegradable and will remain in land-fills for centuries after disposal. The average life span of an artificial tree is only six years.

Real Christmas trees, on the other hand, are easily reused and recycled.

  • Christmas trees are biodegradable - the trunk and branches can be used as mulch for gardens, parks or in animal stalls. The mulch provides a protect barrier for the roots of other plants and vegetation while preventing weeds from growing. The mulch then decomposes, providing the nutrients plants need to thrive.

  • Mulching programs are a fast-growing trend in communities throughout the nation. Check with your local department of public works for information.

  • Some communities use Christmas trees to make effective sand and soil erosion barriers, especially at beaches and on river beds. Sunk into private fish ponds trees make excellent refuge and feeding area for fish.

  • Before recycling, Christmas trees can be used to make bird feeders, adding color and excitement to the winter garden. Utilize orange slices, suet, and seed to attract the birds. They will come for the food and stay for the shelter in the branches.

The practice of using a living tree to celebrate the holidays is gaining in popularity. Living trees have their roots in tact and can be re-planted outside following the holiday.

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