For more than 150 years, many Americans have enjoyed the tradition of a fresh, fragrant evergreen tree as part of their Christmas celebrations. Today 30–35 million real trees are sold each holiday season, and there have never been more sources from which to select.

 

As the holiday season approaches each year, many consumers ask the same question. Real, or artificial? Although there are pros and cons to both sides of this argument, one need not feel guilty for environmental reasons about buying a real Christmas tree. Unlike their artificial counterparts, real trees are biodegradable, and they’re a renewable resource, planted, grown on farms, harvested, and then replanted.

 

The best way to ensure a fresh Christmas tree is to cut it yourself. Christmas trees have been grown commercially in Texas since 1977. Most Christmas trees are still purchased locally, at retail lots set up at shopping centers, discount stores, supermarkets, and other visible locations. Tree lots and local nurseries provide convenience to consumers who have limited time for tree shopping and usually offer a wide variety of tree species from which to choose.

 
When choosing a tree from a retail lot, the first concern should be the freshness of the tree because the length of time since cutting can greatly affect how well it will hold its needles and fragrance. In general, a fresh tree will have a healthy, green appearance without a large number of dead or browning needles.

 
Break a few needles; they should be flexible and feel slightly moist. Needles should not come off in your hand if you gently stroke a branch. A useful trick is to bump the trunk on the ground. It’s normal for some needles to fall but if they’re still dropping heavily after two or three bumps, the tree is too dry.

 
After arriving home, remove one or two inches from the base of the trunk to encourage better water absorption. Place the trunk in a bucket of water for a day or two and keep the tree in a cool, shaded area before bringing it indoors. Depending on size and other factors, a tree may absorb as much as a gallon of water the first day.

 
When setting up your tree, locate it away from any heat source that can accelerate drying. Christmas trees can absorb a lot of water, so place the tree in a stand with a generous capacity, at least one quart or larger. Check the water level each day and add water as needed.

 
Since real Christmas trees are biodegradable, after the holidays they can be converted into landscaping mulch or put to other organic uses. Each year the City of Lufkin offers a Christmas tree recycling service. Around the farm, trees can be cleaned of all decorations can be sunk in a pond to provide structure and habitat for fish.

 
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Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu
Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.