A very green Christmas tree

Photo: Lynn Perrett

Finding an eco-friendly Christmas tree isn't easy. There are downsides to both the real and artificial trees. But there is a way to combine the best of both worlds.

Trouble with real trees
Real trees provide oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide and remove other pollutants from the air. Trees also provide food, shelter and homes to animals, reduce soil erosion and surface runoff. But some Christmas trees are grown with harmful pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers and cut down too young. Some critics argue the land used to grow Christmas trees would be better suited to grow native trees for landscaping purposes or allowed to revert to a more natural state. Still, others dislike the idea of killing a healthy tree to be used as a large ornament for a couple of weeks.

Trouble with artificial
Artificial trees also have benefits -- namely that they can be used every year saving the lives of real trees. Unfortunately, artificial trees don't last forever eventually ending up in landfills where the metal and plastic does not readily decompose. The beautiful fragrance of real trees is also missing from artificial trees.

A greener alternative
Is there an environmentally-friendly alternative to real and artificial trees? Absolutely. You can create a Christmas tree using evergreen branches taken from trees on your property that need pruning. Be sure to check with your local municipality before pruning any trees on public property. Many nurseries, greenhouses and plant stores also sell evergreen branches. Probably the best source can be found at your local Christmas farm -- a great way to support your local farmer as well.

Types to use
Almost any kind of fir tree is suitable. We've used branches from white pine, red pine and white spruce trees to create our "living tree."

A large branch from a white pine tree makes is a lovely choice. Larger evergreen branches can be filled out with smaller branches where necessary. Your tree won't be a full as the commercially grown ones but the extra space does allows more room for decorations.

Decorations to help
Add heirloom decorations handed down from family to family, hand-made decorations made by your children or recycle items destined for the landfill for a really eco-tree. Quality decorations are also a good choice since they last longer and can be re-used from year to year. Tinsel lovers can go green with Victorian Christmas Tree Tinsel. This eco-friendly tinsel is made from tapered tin, twisted into a corkscrew pattern. It looks like modern tinsel but can be used over and over.

Best of both worlds
The evergreen branch tree has all the benefits of artificial and real trees, but none of the drawbacks. It looks good, smells great and when Christmas is over you can put the branch (or branches) outside near your bird feeder where it provides some shelter for the birds and other animals who visit the feeding station. In the spring you can mulch the branch for compost or ground cover.

The holidays generate lots of extra garbage. We long for a white Christmas but it's vital we have a green one. Creating a Christmas tree that does not negatively impact the planet is a good way to reduce our festive footprint!

Article by N. Glenn Perrett, photograph by Lynn Perrett. Glenn Perrett has a degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Waterloo and writes for a number of publications including Harrowsmith Country Life. Lynn Perrett is a freelance photographer.