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Mark Cullen: In favour of real Christmas trees

Posted December 19, 2014 by Anonymous

I was basking in the heat of Cairns, Australia, when the email came in: “Would you participate in a debate over the use of real trees versus artificial for Christmas during an upcoming Canada AM segment?”

You bet I was in. Real Christmas trees are the winner, hands down. And yet, the sale of real, fresh cut Christmas tree has been on a slow, gradual decline for a few years.

According to my sources in the Christmas tree industry there are a lot of reasons for this, but today I am going to set the record straight and if just one reader changes their mind on the subject in favour of a real tree, I’ll have accomplished something.

Allow me to explain something about Canadian-grown Christmas trees.

First, the fresh-cut Christmas tree that you buy off the lot or from a reliable retailer is plantation-grown, not cut from the wild. It is planted, nurtured, and harvested like any agricultural crop. This one, though, takes up to 10 years to produce a marketable specimen. The tree that is planted in the ground is 3 to 4 years old at the time. Therefore, the tree that you buy may be up to 14 years old from seed germination to the day that you decorate it.

Fresh-cut trees are, well, fresh. They are cut in late fall and trucked to retailers across the country in early November. They do not dry out while they are outdoors but they can dry out in your home quite quickly, which is why it is important that you use a tree stand with a large water capacity and that you keep it filled with water.

The land on which Christmas trees grow (about 40,000 acres in Canada) is generally marginally productive farm land. You would not want to grow a food crop on much of it as it is rocky, acidic and often hard to access (as in, way up north or buried in the bush somewhere). Deer and other wildlife forage through Christmas tree farms. They enjoy the protection that they provide and many song birds use the trees for nesting.

Christmas tree growing is a professional endeavour. Go to the Canadian Christmas Tree Growers Association website (canadianchristmastrees.ca) for information about how to grow Christmas trees, where to learn about the subject, and where to locate their several hundred members including the many cut-your-own farms in Ontario. Christmas trees are a net-export crop in Canada and the industry employs a lot of people.

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My favourite cut Christmas tree is the Fraser fir (Abies fraseri). It has a lovely evergreen scent, the needles are soft to the touch, it holds moisture in its needles longer than most species, reducing needle drop, which further prevents a lot of clogged vacuum cleaners around New Years.

My second favourite tree is the Balsam fir (Abies balsamea), for many of the same reasons I love the Fraser, but the needles are shorter and therefore you won’t hang as many ornaments on it.

The Scots pine (not ‘Scotch’) (Pinus sylvestris) is a native of Scotland, with long, stiff needles. The trunk is often not straight, though a good specimen can be. Needle retention is average. A generation ago it was No. 1 on the market by far but now represents a fraction of it.

White spruce (Picea glauca) is a problem indoors. If you are going to bring one home for Christmas, do yourself a favour and keep it out of doors until a couple of days before Christmas and take it back out a couple of days afterwards. The needles drop like rain when they become dehydrated, which won’t take long.

A fresh cut Christmas tree can be recycled by just leaving it at the end of your driveway for municipal services to pick it up. You paid for this service when you paid your taxes. Wise people take advantage of it. Much of that mulch is used in public parks in the spring to protect the root zone of permanent trees and shrubs.

So, fresh cut Christmas trees look good, smell nice and are the right environmental choice. They produce jobs for Canadians and habitat for wildlife while growing.

I rest my case.

Mark Cullen appears on Canada AM every Wednesday at 8:40 am. He is spokesperson for Home Hardware Lawn and Garden. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com

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