I'll never forget our first Christmas together. My family was coming to visit for the holidays from the west coast and we wanted everything to be perfect right down to the fresh smell of balsam from a perfectly shaped evergreen.
But a week before Christmas, we noticed needles started dropping off. Then came the horrible smell. And more needles, lots of them. Our drying gas heat and inadequate watering had brought our beautiful fresh tree to an untimely death and it stunk! Literally!
So imagine us, the week of Christmas, taking off all the ornaments and all the lights 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 are lovely.
Nowadays, we have an artificial tree. It's amazing how lifelike they have become. They don't need water and don't mind your home's heat. There are definite perks but without the fresh smell and natural beauty.
Is cutting down Christmas trees bad for the environment?
If you're more conscientious about the environment, you may be thinking artificial trees are better. You're not cutting down a tree only to throw it away after the holidays. Right?
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, especially for those who want to go green:
Facts on Fresh Christmas Trees in Virginia
- 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 the 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).
The pros of artificial trees
While artificial trees contain non-biodegradable plastics and metals, the reuse of an artificial tree can reduce its environmental impact. We inherited my grandparent's artificial tree and use it for years.
They are also helpful and often necessary for families who suffer from allergies and asthma. And they are super low maintenance- no watering or vacuuming -and they can save you money year over year. Newer artificial trees are easy to put up as well but do require space to store them.
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.
Tips for fresh Christmas trees
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 source, such as candles, fireplaces, and heating equipment.
Tree farmer, Preston Brown, shows how to check needles for pliability for the freshest tree.
Belmont Christmas Tree Farm 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.
- Water, water, water! Monitor your tree's 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. When you're ready, check out our blog post with local resources.
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 Christmas trees
When choosing an artificial tree, consider the space you have first. The right shape and height are important considerations, especially to avoid a tree with the top bent over against the ceiling due to the latter. You can buy prelit trees or put on lights yourself. We opted for our own lights in case we need to replace a strand over the years.
Most important buying tips for an artificial tree:
- 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.
Maintain your tree and decorate safely
Whichever type of tree you choose, it's essential to maintain your tree and take care when decorating to fireproof your home over the holidays.
- 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.
We hope you enjoy preparing your Christmas tree this year. A special thanks to the Brown Family at Belmont Christmas Tree Farm for your warm welcome and helpful information! To visit other tree farms in Virginia, visit Virginia.org for more information. Please support our local Virginia farmers if you are purchasing a fresh tree.