UBC forestry expert on how to root out the right tree
When choosing a sustainable Christmas tree, UBC silviculturist Bruce Larson says a real tree trumps artificial every time. And a live, potted tree runs rings around them all.
What’s the more sustainable option: real or artificial tree?
Many artificial trees come from a variety of products, including recycled material that then can be recycled again. There are even artificial trees made from wood products. It’s not just PVC plastic anymore.
Even so, it comes down to real. Artificial tree producers cite a break-even point, from an ecological standpoint, of about 10 years. But very few people keep their trees that long. Products change fast, and people want the newest thing.
The most sustainable option is the trend towards potted live trees. Essentially, you rent a potted tree for the season, and then return it. The UBC Forestry Undergraduate Society has these at the UBC Farm Christmas tree lot.
If you don’t have a potted tree, recycle it. Vancouver has a good tree-recycling program. The trees go into mulch that can be used on trails or parks, or added to soil as compost.
What methods are used to grow and harvest Christmas trees?
They run the gamut, from intensive farming to harvesting from the forest, which is done in the Kootenays. In very intensive tree farming, pesticides and synthetic fertilizers are used. At the opposite spectrum are organic tree farms that manage without pesticides or artificial fertilizers.
How much agricultural land in BC is devoted to Christmas trees?
In BC, it’s very little. The province produces about 900,000 trees each year. The majority are from the Kootenay region. The producers make sure the area keeps regenerating.
Contrast that to the huge plantations in Oregon and Washington. Oregon grows 6.5-million Christmas trees a year. A single farm in Oregon could produce 100,000 trees.
What can you do to keep your tree healthy through the season?
The key is lots of water. Start with a fresh cut on the bottom, and never let it go dry. A cool house also helps. If the room is warm, the trees will go through a lot more water.
Keeping your tree watered also keeps it safe. A well-watered tree is very unlikely to catch fire.