Christmas Trees: Real versus Fake?

An artificial fiber optic Christmas tree
Image via Wikipedia

Toronto – Christmas is around the corner and many people are preparing to take part in the cherished family tradition of putting up a tree. As always, we have to ask, “Should we get a real tree this year?”

According to the Ontario Forestry Association (OFA), a non-profit charity dedicated to stewardship of forest ecosystems, a real tree is definitely the “greener” choice. (Of course, no tree at all would be technically better, but try convincing people of that one!)

In Canada, trees are grown on farms specifically for the Christmas season. More than 500 farmers produce over one million Christmas trees each year. When the trees are harvested, farmers plant new seedlings to replace the chopped trees that will grow for future holiday seasons. As not all trees are harvested at the same time, these farms provide continuous habitat for wildlife and retain soil and water, preventing seasonal runoff.

Furthermore, one acre of planted Christmas trees produces oxygen for 18 people every day, and the fast-growing trees store loads of carbon dioxide as well. The trees are also 100-per-cent biodegradable, and after Christmas, they are mulched and used in municipal parks in the spring. Pharmaceutical companies in Ontario also extract ingredients from tree needles for flu vaccines.

On the other hand, the manufacturing and transportation of non-biodegradable “fake” Christmas trees requires large amounts of fossil fuels. They also increase waste in landfills as people do not keep their artificial trees forever. The truth is, the average family chooses to purchase a new tree every few years as new designs become available.

If you really want to get technical about it, check out Comparative Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of Artificial vs Natural Christmas Tree, a study condusted by the Montreal-based consulting firm, Ellipsos.

Contrary to popular belief, Christmas trees are also relatively easy to get. If you live in a city, many large grocery stores and hardware stores carry them. If you want to get hands on, go to a Christmas tree farm to choose and cut your own tree.

If you are convinced a real Christmas tree is your choice, The OFA offers a few tips below on how to choose and take care of your tree.

Choosing a real Christmas tree:

  • The most common trees used during the holidays are pine, fir and spruce. Spruce tend to lose their needles first, fir are somewhat slower.
  • Make sure your tree is fresh. A freshly cut tree will last longer and its needles will stay on the branches, instead of your floor.
  • While checking the lot for a fresh tree, make sure that the trunk has some sap coming out of it.
  • Look for a tree that does not have brown needles. The needles of pine and spruce should bend and not break. They should also be hard to pull off the branches.
  • Raise the tree just a few inches and drop it on the base of the trunk. Shake it a little if you can. If a lot of needles fall, your tree may have been cut too long ago and has already dried out.


Caring for your cut tree:

  • With a saw, remove a two centimetre disk of wood from the bottom of the trunk, providing a clean cut that allows the tree to absorb water.
  • Ensure that your tree has adequate water. Display your tree away from direct heat to maintain moisture and the fresh look of the tree.
  • Some people add floral preservatives, aspirin and even honey to tree stand water, but there is no evidence that these provide any benefit.
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