December 6, 2012 in Washington Voices

As trees go, nothing beats real thing

Pat Munts
 
Kimberly Lusk photo

Trees stand ready for Christmas duty at Carver Farms in Newman Lake.
(Full-size photo)

It’s Christmas tree hunting season. Are you going to hunt for yours outdoors at a lot or tree farm? Or are you going to dash out to the nearest purveyor of fine artificial trees and buy one in a box?

Is my bias showing yet?

Don’t get me wrong: Artificial trees have their place, especially where fire codes and safety are critically important, where someone might have allergies or live in a very small space. On the maintenance side, they don’t shed needles all over the place and you don’t have to water them daily. They are easy to pack away in a box and stash in the attic at the end of the holiday season. Good quality artificial trees look reasonably realistic – except they lack that wonderful evergreen smell. I think you could buy that in a can if you wanted to.

Still, there is something missing from this nod to convenience and safety. Artificial trees just don’t have the heart or the chance for a family adventure that a real tree does.

With a real tree, there is the joy of the hunt. Everyone piles into the car and joins the search at the tree lot, a tree farm or in the local national forest. You can’t beat the excitement that comes from the kids – big or small – racing around to find the perfect one. One of my favorite tree-hunting expeditions was with our daughter and her husband, a Marine who had just finished his first tour in Iraq. He was home and they could be big kids again. An added benefit is that most trees are grown nearby so the money stays in our local economy.

A real tree is a better environmental choice than an artificial one. Artificial trees are made out of plastic and metal from nonrenewable resources, and it took even more nonrenewable resources to bring the tree from Asia, where most of them are made. An artificial tree might last 10 years but eventually it ends up in the landfill where it can last for many decades. Even when they are treated with fire retardant, they can burn and release a lot of toxic gasses.

The argument that cutting a real tree takes a tree out of the forest isn’t really accurate either. Most trees are grown on tree plantations just like any other agricultural crop. Each year the producer plants a variety of new trees to replace those that were harvested. The new trees continue to provide wildlife habitat, sequester carbon and make oxygen. In fact, an acre of Christmas trees provides the daily oxygen requirement for 18 people.

Lastly, a real tree gives back to the environment at the end of the holidays. Local civic groups make some money recycling trees into chips that get used to make compost and mulch. You can cut up your tree and use the branches to cover tender plants for the winter and chip them up yourself in the spring.

Do you get all that out of a box of plastic and metal?

Pat Munts has gardened in the Spokane Valley for more than 35 years. She can be reached at pat@ inlandnwgardening.com.


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