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New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services

Ideas for a Cleaner Environment
Published monthly by the NH Department of Environmental Services Watershed Assistance Program, Concord, NH (603) 271-7889

December, 2006

Artificial or Real? Which Tree is Right for the Environment?

With about 35 million real Christmas trees sold in the United States every year, you can lighten your environmental impact by carefully selecting your tree.

In most cases, when buying a Christmas tree, you have three choices: buy a cut real tree, a living tree with the root ball, or a manufactured fake tree. Each option has its environmental impacts but those impacts can be lightened by just a few steps.

The real trees cut and sold today at Christmas tree lots are almost all grown on Christmas tree farms and are considered a renewable resource. For each tree harvested, at least two more are planted. The growing trees actually remove carbon dioxide, the "greenhouse gas" from the atmosphere. They benefit the landscape, hold soil together with their roots, and provide habitat for animals and birds.

However, all is not equal when you select your cut real tree. There are many steps you can take to ensure the least environmental impact possible. To avoid the impacts from trucking, select a tree that is grown locally or cut your own from an area tree farm. You will have the additional benefit of supporting New Hampshire’s economy. Research has shown that many pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers impact wildlife, birds, and water quality. Look for a tree farm that doesn’t use chemicals or uses an integrated pest management (IPM) program that reduces the need for some chemicals and minimizes health and environmental risks. Many local growers keep the chemicals that they add to a minimum and it is always helpful to recognize their efforts. To avoid contributing to the post holiday mountains of trash and to give the tree another use, be sure to find out the closest location for recycling your tree through a chipping or composting program. You might also want to consider re-using the tree branches in your garden for extra insulation around plants or mulching them yourself to use in walkways.

A living evergreen tree sold with its root ball can be transplanted outdoors after the holidays leaving a living green legacy to be enjoyed later. In this colder climate, allow the tree to acclimate for about a week on the porch or in a garage before bringing it in to the warm house. Then, to keep it healthy, limit the amount of time the tree is indoors. Check with a local reputable nursery for more information about how to care for and plant your live tree.

Artificial trees are reusable and can look just like a real tree. The main problem with artificial trees is that they are made from petroleum products and end up in our landfills. Part of their environmental impact depends on how long the tree lasts before it is thrown away. A tree kept for ten years is more environmentally friendly than the one that looks worn after three years.

So which tree is best for the environment? If you live where you can plant a tree outdoors and are willing to do the planting, give a living tree a try. If you use a cut tree, buy locally and be sure to recycle or re-use it properly. And if you decide on an artificial tree, take good care of it and plan on keeping it for many years to come.

For a list of "Harvest Your Own" Christmas tree growers in New Hampshire visit For Christmas tree recycling locations in New Hampshire, contact your local Public Works department. For tips on celebrating a more environmental holiday call (800) 273-9469.

NH Department of Environmental Services | 29 Hazen Drive | PO Box 95 | Concord, NH 03302-0095
(603) 271-3503 | TDD Access: Relay NH 1-800-735-2964 | Hours: M-F, 8am-4pm

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