I'll never forget our first Christmas together. My husband's family was coming to visit for the holidays from the west coast and he wanted everything to be perfect right down to the Christmas tree. The fresh smell of balsam from a perfectly shaped beautiful evergreen.
And it went about as well as this clip from the Christmas Vacation movie...
Okay, okay. It wasn't quite that bad. We went to the local nursery and paid $80 for a perfectly shaped tree, wrestled it out of the car and into one of those tree stands. We put on lights and ornaments and watered it. Fairly successful.
But a week before Christmas, we noticed needles started dropping off. It was dry so I gave it more water. Then came the horrible smell. And more needles..lots of them. Our gas heat and a lack of adequate watering had brought our beautiful fresh tree to an untimely death and it stunk! Literally!
Did I mention my in-laws were coming from Oregon for Christmas?
So imagine us, the week of Christmas, taking off ALL the ornaments and ALL the lights (yes, it still smelled horribly) and dragging it outside while the rest of the needles dropped off. We had a terrible mess to clean up. We learned a lot that year about how not to take care of a fresh Christmas tree. If you do it the right way, they do just fine.
Recently, we've been trying to be more conscientious about the environment. Artificial trees must be better since you're not cutting down a tree only to throw it away after Christmas. Right?
Well, not so fast.
I visited the Brown family's Belmont Christmas Tree Farm in Spotsylvania, VA and learned a few things. This family-owned farm is one of about 594 tree farms providing valuable jobs and commerce for Virginia. Here are a few interesting facts for those that want to go green:
- Real trees are a renewable, recyclable resource.
- They grow best on rolling hills that are unsuitable for other crops.
- Each acre provides the daily oxygen requirements of 18 people.
- For every real Christmas tree harvested, 2 to 3 seedlings are planted in its place.
- Virginia is #7 in the U.S. by number of total trees harvested according to the USDA.
- The top selling Christmas trees are balsam fir, Douglas-fir, Fraser fir, noble fir, Scotch pine, Virginia pine, and white pine.
- Belmont Farm said firs are the longest lasting cut Christmas trees.
You can learn more about Virginia's tree farms at Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association (VCTGA).
There are some advantages to artificial trees. It's true they contain non-biodegradable plastics and metals, but the reuse of an artificial tree can reduce its environmental impact. We inherited my grandparents' artificial tree and use it for years. They are also helpful and often necessary for families who suffer from allergies and asthma.
There's no such thing as a bad Christmas tree for your home. As long as it brings joy and beauty to your holidays, choose what works best for your family and keep your tree safe.
Christmas trees start house fires every year (NFPA) causing $16.2 million in direct property damage. This is due to electrical hazards and proximity to a heat sources, such as candles, fireplaces, and heating equipment.
Tree farmer, Preston Brown, shows how to check needles for pliability for the freshest tree.
Belmont gave us the best tips for fresh cut trees:
- Shop for a pre-cut tree with flexible foliage. When the tree is shaken very few needles should drop.
Invest in a good quality, sturdy and deep tree stand that will hold at least a gallon of water at a time.
- Take the time to cut 1-2 inches from the base of the truck after you bring it home, and immediately place it in your tree stand.
- Use warm water the first time you water your new tree to soften the sap.
- Place the tree away from candles and heat sources and never let the water level in the bowl drop below the bottom of the tree.
- Monitor its water intake daily! A watered tree is a fire-resistant tree!
- Recycle your tree promptly after the holidays before they become dry. Don't store it outside of your home.
Preston even showed us his "Shaker" machine to get the squirrels out. Just kidding! But it will shake any loose needles free before you take your tree home.
Tips for Artificial Trees:
- When choosing pre-lit artificial trees, look for the UL mark. That indicates your tree is certified by UL for fire and electrical hazards.
- A tree should also be labeled “flame retardant” but that does not mean it's fireproof. Keep it away from heat sources and candles.
- Choose safe lights: UL rated and free of worn or broken cords or loose bulbs. Never connect more strands than the manufacturer recommends.
- Turn your Christmas tree lights off each night at bedtime and whenever you leave the house.
- Set up the tree at least three feet away from fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents, space heaters and lamps.
A special thanks to the Brown Family at Belmont Christmas Tree Farm for your warm welcome and helpful information!