I'm dreaming of a green Christmas

From the annual lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in New York City to stringing decorations on ones sitting in our homes, there’s little that resonates the spirit of the holiday quite like a sparkling spruce. But in the hustle and bustle of the season, fighting blistering wind and monotonous check-out lines, it’s easy to overlook what you could be doing to help the environment, even when it comes to your festive fir.

One of the simplest things you can do for the environment when it comes to picking out a Christmas tree this year is shop local. Trees that are grown locally cut down on pollutants from transportation and packaging waste. While some oppose cutting down a tree for a holiday display as depleting the forest, consider that there are roughly 450 million trees currently growing in Christmas tree farms across the country, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.

“What you’re doing,” said Catherine Winkler of Roots Landscaping in Frankford, “is benefitting the farmers on a more regional scale. In support of the Christmas tree growers, in the grand scheme of things, it helps our businesses and has agricultural benefits.”

Roots Landscaping, which has been in business for 11 years and has operated as a garden center for five, is one of the select locations in Sussex County that grows their trees for the season. Douglas and Fraser firs, and hand-made wreathes, are among their top sellers around the holidays.

There are plenty of other things to consider when hunting for a tree, in addition to where you get it. Organically raised trees eliminate the threat of pollution from pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Because these organic farms are few and far between, some area farmers use what’s known as integrated pest management (IPH), which is a biological method of pest control, rather than a chemical one.

The real-versus-fake tree debate is one that comes up each and every year. Which one’s more effective and beneficial to the economy and our planet? As most environmentalists will attest, tree farms not only help provide oxygen and reduce harmful carbon dioxide, but they create jobs, and in a trying economy plagued with the highest lay-off rates of our generation, it’s just one more thing we can do as consumers.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Christmas tree industry brings in more than $500 million annually, with Pennsylvania boasting more Christmas tree farms than any other state. Most artificial trees are produced in and imported from China.

Fake trees are assembled from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, which is made from petroleum, a non-renewable carbon-emitting resource. They also release greenhouse gases (GHG) during their manufacture, processing and shipping – another concern avoided if visiting a local tree farm.

And, although fake trees are commonly referred to as “plastic,” the majority are – unlike many plastic products these days – not recyclable. Eventually, they will likely end up in space-wasting landfills. Real trees, on the other hand, possess a multitude of post-holiday options.

They can be recycled back into the environment by way of mulching or composting. And many state parks use discarded Christmas trees as eco-friendly habitats for wildlife and deterrents for erosion.

If the idea of a real tree appeals, why not take that notion one step further? Even better than cutting down a tree from a local farm is a rapidly growing concept around the Christmas season: purchasing a “balled and burlapped” tree, where the roots of the tree are conserved and the tree can be replanted outdoors after the holiday.

While they may spend a shorter time indoors (most “balled and burlapped” trees can sustain up to two weeks indoors before replanted outside) they contribute directly back to the environment. Replanting trees around your home can potentially reduce air conditioning and heating bills by providing shade in the summer and insulation through the winter. Root systems can help eliminate stormwater runoff – one of the leading pollutants of our local waterways.

With an abbreviated span between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday compared to last year, Christmas tree farmers anticipate their busiest days of the year this weekend. If you want a real tree, be sure to swing by a local Christmas tree farm before they’re gone.

For more information from Roots Landscaping, call (302) 732-0866. For a complete list of Christmas tree growers in Delaware, visit the Web site at http://dda.delaware.gov/marketing/forms/111408_DCTGA.pdf.