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How do you feel about artificial trees? December 12, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben grew up in a world where you bought a fresh-cut Christmas tree every year and that was that. My parents would have died a thousand deaths before admitting an artificial tree into our family home. Come to think of it, they’d probably die a thousand deaths if they were transported to our home, Hawk’s Haven, and forced to behold our “psychoactive” Christmas tree, which has fiber-optic branch tips and fiber-optic bulb lights that glow in an ever-changing light show of jewel tones.

I’ve been pondering the whole artificial tree issue this year for three reasons. First, when Silence Dogood and I were in Nashville for Thanksgiving, we saw people practically trampling each other to buy those vintage silver-foil trees in antiques stores. These were expensive trees and very well-heeled shoppers partaking of the stampede, let me tell you, but for one horrifying moment we thought we’d ended up in Wal-Mart by mistake.

Speaking of well-heeled shoppers brings our friend Ben to my second reason: As artificial trees have gained acceptance and become more realistic, their price has risen accordingly. We don’t know what they look like in person, but we’re awed by the photos of majestic, pre-lit trees we see in catalogues now. And even more awed by the attached price tags, which can reach over $1,000 for a really huge, super-realistic tree. Mind you, the cost of a fresh-cut tree has risen along with everything else, and people might reasonably conclude that a one-time investment in a quality artificial tree that will look good forever and never shed needles is well worth it. But whew!

The third reason returned to mind when our friend Ben read a comment by Nancy Bond of Soliloquy (http://nancybond.wordpress.com/) in which she mentioned that her daughter was allergic to Christmas trees. We hadn’t realized that this was possible until we met our friend Nan, who also has a Christmas-tree allergy. Maybe lots of people do. We think this is a tragedy, since nothing on earth smells like fresh pine and balsam fir. But it’s certainly an excellent reason to opt for an artificial tree!

By now you may be wondering why, if we love fresh trees so much, we have our psychoactive tree instead. One word: cats. No ornament was safe from their depradations. We were constantly terrified that they’d drink the Christmas-tree water and die. And then there was the year that our enormous Maine coon male, Seamus Beaumaine, pulled the entire tree over. We tried a Norfolk Island pine, but not only is it not the same, the cats still attacked it and the ornaments. It was the cats or the trees, and the cats won. Mercifully, they ignore the psychoactive tree. And yes, we have heard of people who string their tree up every year, attaching it to a hook in the ceiling to prevent turnovers. But frankly, we can’t see it.

We console ourselves by hanging a very fresh and very fragrant wreath on our front door and taking long breaths of evergreen whenever we go in or out. And last year, we were thrilled when our friend Carolyn gave us a fresh-cut tree. We set it up on our deck, wrapped it with tiny white lights and unbreakable ornaments, and enjoyed it well into January. Another option is to create an outdoor “bird tree,” but we’ll let our friend and blog collaborator Richard Saunders tell you about that in a future post.

Okay, now it’s your turn to vote. Here, as I see it, are the high and low points of each option:

Artificial trees. On the plus side, artificial trees are more realistic and easier to assemble now than ever before. The pre-lit trees have lovely sparkling lights plentifully distributed evenly over the entire tree—no more awkward gaps or clusters of lights and then huge bare spots. A well-made artificial tree should last a lifetime, so you only have to buy one. And you’ll never have to deal with dropped needles, changing water, and the rest of the real-tree mess. On the minus side, some trees are, shall we say, more realistic-looking than others. (Of course, some, like those coveted tinsel trees and bottle-brush trees, are supposed to look fake. That’s the whole point.) You have to find room to store the tree. There’s the whole price thing. And you’ll never enjoy that evergreen smell.

Fresh-cut trees. The benefit here is a fresh, fragrant tree that harks back to the reason Christmas trees became traditional in the first place: In the dead of winter, their evergreen branches were a symbol of eternal life, and thus came to symbolize the eternal life that believers gained through the birth of Christ. Nothing on earth smells as good as a fresh Christmas tree. On the down side, nothing on earth looks as sad as a Christmas tree, which had been loved and cherished only minutes before, set out unceremoniously at the curb for the trash truck. Our friend Ben finds this a waste and a crime, a sorry symbol of our whole throwaway mentality. I say, put that tree out in a discreet part of the yard for the birds to shelter in ’til spring, then chip it into mulch or saw it up and burn it. Other negatives are the messiness and, as we’ve seen, potential allergies. Not to mention that you have to buy a new one every year.

Live trees. You may be thinking that our friend Ben has forgotten the live-tree option, but not so. I like the idea of live trees, but the reality is often much more complicated. First, the trees that make the best Christmas trees are not always suited to your climate, so they might make poor yard trees or even die where you live. Second, you should keep a live tree in artificially warm household conditions for as short a time as possible—certainly no more than a week. I don’t know about you, but we like to keep our tree up through December and into January. (We finally and very reluctantly take it down on Epiphany.) Third, unless you live in a very mild climate where the ground never freezes and you can plant your Christmas tree right away, you have to somehow keep it alive until you can plant it in spring. Some people dig a hole for the tree before the ground freezes, then set it in the ground, burlap ball and all, and mulch it super-well until spring, but this is not a happy solution. Neither is keeping it in a cold, brightly lit garage and keeping the rootball from drying out for lo those many months until you can plant it. Not to mention the little problem of finding space for all the Christmas trees to come.

In short, every option has its pros and cons. What’s your choice?


1. Amy - December 12, 2008

We were forced to buy an artificial tree several years ago when members of my family developed a pretty miserable allergy to the real thing. I miss the smell of real trees, and the trip into the forest with a thermos of hot cocoa was always really special.

There were some pretty expensive trees though…like when my father got into a car accident on the way home, or when we got completely stuck in a ditch literally in the middle of nowhere and were very thankful when a local rancher happened by and rescued us!

On the plus side for artificial, we have so much storage in our basement that we can leave the tree set up, lights and all, and just haul it upstairs for Christmas!

Ha! I know someone who keeps his Christmas tree set up in his cabin all year, and the family heads over there at Christmas to enjoy it…

2. Joy - December 12, 2008

Wow ! I never thought I would see the day that those tinsel trees would be so valuable ? The retro look is not one I really want to see at Christmas .. pink, purple even red coloured ones .. well that is just not right ! haha
I like the sound of yours .. like a giant fiberoptic light ? .. too cool !
We started out with fresh cut ones .. then while we lived in Holland and our very rotund ? (they don’t ‘shape” the Xmas tress like we do in North America) .. fell over during the night, our cat Molly was disgusted by the whole mess and SAID she had nothing to do with the accident ? .. in any case .. new area rug was never the same from the tree water.
We bought an artificial one at a huge Dutch garden center and loved it. We used it up until 2 years ago when we bought a new one that was pre-strung with white lights .. the energy saver type.
It comes in 3 sections and once fluffed up .. it is a beauty.
We still like to rescue a cut one and put it on our front step in a black urn .. so the smell is captured when opening the front door .. rubbing up against the tree .. letting the neighbors get a good show of me in my screaming red penguin pajamas .. all round , every one is happy !! LOL
So a vote for both categories in artificial and fresh ? cut : )

Sounds good, Joy! Ha—I love the thought of you and the tree making a festive Christmas display at the front step!

3. VP - December 12, 2008

Good question which I was about to post about myself. I’ve been trying to find out which has the most environmental impact: an artificial tree used for 25 years with a single round trip of 5 miles to collect it, or a fresh tree per year which needs a car journey of at least 10 miles (round trip) to pick it up with a further 10 mile trip to get it chipped (we don’t have a collecting garbage service) afterwards. Add to that all the power used during and afterwards to clear up the dropped needles. But then of course the artificial tree’s probably come from China and the real trees less than a hundred miles away – aaaaaaaaaaaargggggggghhhhhhhh!

Needless to say I haven’t found the answer yet!

And I have an artificial tree, but would like to know if I’ve made the right choice!

Good points! Not to mention the resources and land used in growing the trees that could be invested growing food or fiber. Let us know what you find out!

4. nancybond - December 12, 2008

Even though, for the reason you mentioned in your post, we have to have an artificial tree, those cold, sunny, wintry days of tromping deep into the fragrant woods with my Dad to select *just* the right tree, are among those which first spring to mind when I think of the joys of Christmases Past. And I do miss that heady fragrance.

Having said that, I feel somewhat good about leaving at least one tree standing to offer shelter to birds and other creatures, and I certainly don’t miss the mess and the daily watering of a real tree. I also like that we can put the tree up as early as we like, and leave it up as long as we like. So it’s a mixed bag of tricks for me. 🙂

It’s a mixed bag for most of us, I’m thinking, Nancy!

5. Amanda - December 12, 2008

I’ve always preferred the real thing (we just turn it into mulch in the spring) and, now we’ve got a bit of land, I’m wondering about growing my own trees for Christmasses in the future. Has anyone looked into how easy (or not) this is? I’m afraid I’m a bit snobbish about artificial greenery – and I’m sure its manufacture is not environmentally-friendly – but I kind of like the sound of your psychoactive tree – it doesn’t seem to be pretending to be something it’s not!

Hi Amanda! Growing Christmas trees sounds like a lot of work if you’re looking for perfection—battling weeds and bugs, feeding and shaping, protecting them from damage and broken branches, etc. But if you just want to try it and don’t mind if it’s a bit Charlie-Brownish, it might be fun. As for our psychoactive tree, to paraphrase Popeye, it is what it is, and that’s a trip!

6. Cindy - December 12, 2008

What a great discussion. We now go with the artificial tree, bought when they were still reasonably priced. We always do a big train/village display under the tree and for that reason needed the artificial tree.

Ooh, I want to see photos of your Christmas village display! please put them up on your blog!

7. deb - December 13, 2008

I posted about this the day after thanksgiving. We have a fake white tree. I love the way it looks with only cobalt blue decorations on it. I am not against a real tree, I just love my blue and white christmas.

I remember that post, Deb. Your tree is great! I couldn’t stand to limit my colors like that, though. My own mama resolved that issue by having three Christmas trees in the house! She did a formal one in the living room with only silver and gold decorations, a Victorian one in the dining room with our more elaborate ornaments, and a children’s tree in the keeping room with all the fun and homemade ornaments. Talk about getting into the Christmas spirit! of course, we all loved it.

8. Cinj - December 14, 2008

We have an artificial tree too. That way when Speedy tries to climb it to get to a shiny ornament just out of her reach it won’t leave a huge puddle of water on the floor. Seriously, she just knocked it over the other day. I could see it when she was a kitten, but she’s a grownup now!

I bought an artificial tree because of the frugal side of me, I used to work at KMart and bought them when they were on the 75% off clearance after Christmas sale.

I DO love the smell of the real trees too. I have resorted to the use of pine scented air freshners in the past but I don’t think I’ll do that anymore.

Wow, Cinj, you did get a deal! And yes, just when you think the cats are past it, one of them pulls some kittenish stunt. (Sigh.) Better safe than sorry!

9. Laurel - December 14, 2008

I like the idea of a fresh (grown without pesticides and the like!) tree, but we live in an apartment, so it’s not allowed. I have done potted trees, but they don’t have a chance with 4 cats or frozen ground.

I am not personally a fan of artificial trees, so we make due with our 9-foot banana tree. Not exactly traditional, but it works 😉

Mercy, how do you get a 9-foot banana tree to fit in your apartment?!! Ha!!! I was so excited when I had my first apartment and got a fresh-cut tree. But of course, I like to leave them up into January. And I was on the third floor. I will never, ever forget dragging that tree, with needles raining down all the while, to the bins outside, then trailing back down three flights of stairs vacuuming up what looked like the primeval forest floor. Agh! After that, I got a huge, gorgeous Norfolk Island pine and enjoyed it until we came upon our psychoactive tree!

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