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Environment

Buying a Real Christmas Tree, Not Bad for the Environment, WSU Researcher Says


PULLMAN, Wash. - It's that time of year again, the stores are flooded with holiday decorations, the street corners are lined with Christmas trees for sale and many people are torn with the decision to decorate a real or fake tree this year. For those do-it-yourself individuals, "Cut your own Christmas Tree Month" is upon us and many families participate in the age-old tradition of chopping down their own tree.

One-third of the 34-36 million Christmas trees harvested each year are grown in Western Washington and Oregon. Gary Chastagner, professor of plant pathology at Washington State University's Puyallup Research and Extension Center, attributes this to the good growing sites, moderate temperatures, good rain fall and a good grower-knowledge base that produces good quality trees in the Northwest.

According to the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association, 92 percent of all Northwest harvested Christmas trees are exported out of the region and around the world, with 47 percent going to California. Nationally, one million acres of land is used for Christmas tree harvest. Of that, Oregon uses 63,000 acres and Washington uses 25,000 acres.

Many people who purchase fake Christmas trees do so because they believe that cutting down real trees is bad for the environment. However, "most Christmas trees are grown as crop and replanted, so it is really no different than harvesting corn," Chastagner explained. "There is natural reseeding of trees in forests and permits are given out to cut down Christmas trees in areas that need to be thinned."

The National Christmas Tree Association also stresses how the use of real Christmas trees is actually better for the environment than fake trees. According to research, most fake trees are only used 6 to 9 years before they're disposed. Even if you would use one for 20 years or more, it will eventually be thrown away and end up in a landfill, unlike real trees, which are biodegradable and recyclable.

In order to keep your cut Christmas trees fresh and have the longest needle retention possible, Chastagner said the "single most important thing to do is to re-cut the base of the tree and display in a water tree stand that holds one gallon of water per one inch of stem diameter."

If properly taken care of, a Douglas Fir can live and retain its needles three weeks and Noble Fir can last for four to six weeks. Chastagner has conducted extensive research and found that additives that are on sale on the market don't work, your best bet for long tree life is "plain old water."

Chastagner's Christmas tree research focuses on disease problems that affect the production of high quality Christmas trees and how to manage them, as well as post harvest quality. He can be reached at 253-445-4528 or chastag@wsu.edu.

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