O Tannenbaum! Care Tips for a Real Christmas Tree

My son loves talking to imaginary friends on his fake cell phone. He usually talks to Minnie Mouse and Elmo, but this past weekend he had quite a few conversations with his imaginary friend “po-lah bear.” After visiting the Detroit Zoo on Black Friday, he’s gone polar bear crazy. Thus, his affinity for polar bears prompted a lengthy discussion about global warming and homeless polar bears.

We didn’t really discuss global warming, but for the past few years, global warming has been a pretty hot topic. During the holiday season, many people try to be eco-friendly by opting for an artificial tree over a real one. But did you know that real trees are actually a more environmentally friendly option?

According to an article by EarthTalk, the most eco-friendly way to celebrate Christmas is to buy a live tree from a local grower.  Christmas trees are a renewable resource and can be recycled into mulch, while 85% of artificial trees are crafted from non-renewable, carbon-emitting PVC plastic. And if you’re worried about pine trees going extinct, you can feel better knowing that Christmas tree farmers use renewable farming practices; for every tree cut down, one to three seedlings are planted in its place.

Artificial trees might be your first choice because of allergies or cost, but if eco-friendliness is at the top of your list, you should consider celebrating this Christmas with a real tree. Caring for a real tree might seem daunting if you’ve never done it before, so here are a few tips to help you enjoy your first holiday season as the owner of a fresh-cut real Christmas tree!

Selection

According to This Old House, picking the right tree is like picking out fruit: “you should smell and touch.” Here are a few ways to figure out if you’ve got a fresh one.

  • Test the branches. Grip a branch between your thumb and forefinger. Pull. The needles should not come off in your hand.
  • Crush the needles. A delicious, fresh scent is essential. A lack of scent is a warning sign.
  • Bounce the tree. Drop the tree from a few inches above the ground. If exterior needles fall off, it’s a dud. Special note: you shouldn’t be worried if interior needles fall off. That’s just a part of the natural shedding process.

Set-up

There’s bound to be a little bit of time between the moment your tree is cut down and the moment you finish setting it up. In the meantime, keep your tree away from the elements. Too much wind or warmth will dry it out.

If you’ve ever received a bouquet of flowers, you’ll know that cutting the stems before putting them in the vase helps them intake water. It’s the same way with trees. If your tree goes more than 6-8 hours without water, you’ll need to remove a ½ inch-thick disk of wood from the base. This will make it possible for your tree to absorb water.

Decorating

According to the National Fire Prevention Association, Christmas trees caused an average of 240 home fires per year between 2005 and 2009. If you don’t want one of those homes to be yours, you’ll need to use good safety practices.

First of all, take care where you place your tree. Keep it away from heat vents and direct sunlight, which will dry it out and turn it into a fire hazard.

Second, make sure to use cool-burning holiday lights. Look on the box for an indication that your lights are safe to use on real trees. If the box doesn’t explicitly say so, don’t take the chance. And remember that using “safe” lights doesn’t guarantee that you’re using them safely. You should limit the number of bulbs and extension cords that you use on a real tree, and make sure that all wires and cords are in good condition. Check out this article by Yahoo for more specific information on decorating your tree safely.

Maintenance

Christmas trees don’t need to be loved or petted. They don’t need to be walked, and they don’t need to sleep at the foot of your bed every night. All they need is a constant supply of water. Make a point of checking your tree’s water at least once a day. Once the water supply runs dry, you’ll need to go through the trouble of cutting the trunk again – and nobody wants to do that!

The National Christmas Tree Association says that plain tap water is the best thing you can give your tree. Don’t bother spending money on fancy additives and preservatives; experts say that they’re not any better than regular ol’ water.

Disposal

Once your tree is dried out, it’s time to get rid of it. Instead of throwing out your tree or setting it on fire (which is extremely dangerous), give back to nature by recycling it. There are Christmas tree recycling programs all over the country. Check out this page to learn about your options, or to find a program near you!

Picking out a Christmas tree can be a great and eco-friendly family tradition. They don’t require much maintenance, and with proper care, they won’t become a fire hazard. What is your experience with real Christmas trees? Share your story with your fellow Zing readers in the comments section below.

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