The third day: The Great Christmas Tree Debate

Sometime in childhood I figured out that a tree had to be cut down in order to become a Christmas tree and I was devastated. I begged my parents to stop killing living trees and get a plastic one instead.

When I set up my own household with my partner ten years ago, I finally got my wish. We bought a small plastic tree. But it never looked nearly as good as the real ones my parents brought into their house. It was just too plastic, so it got Full-circled a couple of years back.

Now I’m glad I got rid of it, though I feel bad that I passed it on to someone else. You see, in researching this post I found out that plastic trees are worse than kitsch, they’re actually toxic. Grist, which is a great source for environmental news and information, explains that fake Christmas trees are made from that environmental villain polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is sometimes stabilised with lead. I probably don’t need to tell readers of this blog that both PVC and lead are damaging to human health as well as the environment. This ends the debate for me. Fake Christmas trees are clearly not an environmental choice.

About 8 years ago we bought a reusable living Christmas tree: a 2-foot tall potted Norfolk pine. Norfolk pine will not survive Ottawa winters so there was never the option of planting it. Instead we had to adopt it. The tree lives with us in the house year-round. It is fed a daily diet of left-over dog water and has grown to a happy healthy 7-feet in height and shows no sign of stopping. (As an aside, let me mention that our ceilings are only 8-feet high, so I’m not quite sure what will happen in a year or two when the tree meets the ceiling.)

If living year-round with an indoor tree is not in your Christmas plans a cut tree is probably your best environmental bet. There is some merit to arguments made that Christmas tree farms provide some habitat for wildlife and are one of the least resource intensive forms of conventional farming. However, as with any shopping decision ask questions. Is the tree from a small local family-farm or has it been trucked in from some giant corporate tree farm? What land-stewardship practices do they use? Do they use pesticides or chemical fertilizers? Do they encourage wildlife to make use of their farm while the trees are growing?

Going to a cut-your-own tree farm can answer a lot of these questions while giving you and your family a fun excursion out. Plus, at a cut-your-own place only the sold trees are cut down. It is a sad sight to see all the leftover cut trees lying dead and abandoned at the local Loblaws on Christmas day.

In Ottawa, cut Christmas trees are collected by the City after Christmas. Some of these are given a new life as wind-breaks on the Canal. Others go to be chipped for mulch which is used to control weeds and to reduce the amount of water needed on City gardens and urban trees. You can also put your tree outside in your yard for the rest of winter to provide shelter for birds and then put it out for the Spring yard-waste collections.

To find a local Christmas-tree grower check out the Christmas Tree Farmers of Ontario website: They list 16 local farms in the Ottawa area (all of which appear to be family-owned) where you can go to cut your own tree.

10 thoughts on “The third day: The Great Christmas Tree Debate

  • At least you use leftover, not recycled, dog water on your Norfolk Pine!

    Most of the trees for sale in the Byward Market come from specified local tree farms

  • Two more options on the tree front:

    I know people who buy a potted tree (not Norfolk) of a local species, then plant it in the spring on a friends property in the country.

    My mother and I opted for the alternative of finding a beautiful, weathered branch in the woods near our house to bring inside and decorate instead of a live tree. It had no bark left on it, and the wood had weathered to a lovely silvery sheen from the elements.

    “A dead branch? How morbid!” you might be thinking. But actually we found it very pretty and artistic, in a quirky way- though perhaps not the best option for your hard-core Christmas traditionalists.

  • Could someone tell me where I could purchase a live potted tree in the Ottawa Area? (not Norfolk) …I’d like to plant it on my property in the spring.

  • I would also like to know where I could buy a small potted tree (a local species). Any ideas?
    From the calls I’ve made, they are usually sold in the spring. Anyone know who sells them now?

  • I did a little research the last couple of days and it seems that live potted trees can be found at Richmond Nursery at the corner of Eagleson Rd. and Richmond Rd. or at Loblaws at College square. I haven’t checked neither of these locations yet.. I though I’ll share anyways. 🙂
    Good luck!

  • After reading Emilia Kutrovska’s post, decided to go to Richmond Nursery to investigate. We went today and they had a very big selection of live potted trees. They have 3 sizes/kinds, the smaller being about 2-3 feet tall, and the larger being close to 6 feet, probably. We opted for a small Dwarf Alberta Spruce (we don’t have much room for a big tree) at about 25$ and it’s just perfect in our apartment! I don’t know if it can survive indoors for long though, I’m kind of guessing it will need to find an outdoors home to survive…

  • Hi,

    Just thought I’d let people know that a potted tree then you intend to plant outside can only stay indoors for 10 days. after that it won’t survive outside, having lost it’s resistance to cold.

    Also, when I was kid I knew an old lady who used a ladder to cut the tip off of a large pine. said that was how her dad did it. saves you from killing the tree. one day i plan on doing that! (i’ll be looking into what happens to a a tree cut like that.)

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