Planning on Buying a Christmas Tree?
You might like to know that they’re getting greener and greener.
Americans buy 30 million “real” Christmas trees each year. From seedling to sale typically takes eight years. To meet the demand, American farmers have planted roughly 350 million Christmas trees on 170,000 acres. All fifty states grow Christmas trees, but North Carolina, Washington, and Oregon dominate the field. It’s a big business, but is it sustainable?
Tree farmers started asking the sustainability question about twenty years ago. They then began shifting to newer, healthier cultivation practices. Paul Smith, who has owned Cool Springs Nursery in Banner Elk, North Carolina for more than forty years, says that the greener practices include:
- no till farming
- ground cover, like Dutch white clover, for weed control
- insecticide spraying at night when bees are less active
- minimal herbicide use, to stunt weeds rather than kill them
- site selection that minimizes soil erosion.
Growing trees is labor intensive; Smith estimates each tree is touched 200 times. Obstacles include sixfoot tall weeds, heavy rain, wind, hail, and drought. To keep his trees dense and attractive, he uses bonsai-tree methods. He constantly scans for harmful bugs and takes tissue samples to determine how healthy his trees are. He emphasizes that healthy soil and clean water are essential to success.
Smith is supported by people like Dr. Jeff Owen, an Area Extension Specialist from the University of North Carolina. Owen partners with growers to foster innovation and best practices. These include techniques to prevent soil erosion, minimize sedimentation, and reduce the need for fertilizers and pesticides. Owen’s philosophy is that each problem must be solved with multi-faceted solutions, with the overall health of the environment kept top of mind.
When you buy a Christmas tree, you’re supporting a progressive industry that’s striving to protect the environment. If you return the tree to mulch, you can complete the circle of conservation. It’s a nice tradition and a healthy habit.
—Suellen White, Garden Club of Denver,
Zone XII, Editor, ConWatch
Frazer Fir. Photo by Paul Smith
Submitted by Peggy Moore