COLUMN: Real or artificial Christmas tree?

Michele Olson
Jones County Naturalist

     Real or artificial? This is often the question when the topic of Christmas trees is pondered. There are arguments for both, but many believe real Christmas trees are a better environmental choice. Here are some of the benefits of choosing a real Christmas tree.

     Taking your family every year to the Christmas tree farm is a wonderful family tradition! Gathering the family and heading to the Christmas tree farm, picking out just the right tree, participating in the cutting of the tree, taking family photos and selfies, enjoying apple cider or hot chocolate and cookies as your tree is prepared for transport, and the hours of decorating the tree once home are all lasting memory-makers.

     Growing Christmas trees is a renewable resource, with most growers planting 2-3 trees for every tree harvested. Christmas trees take 6-12 years, 7 on average, before they are harvested and provide habitat for birds and other wildlife as they grow. During this time, they produce oxygen and help clean the air and water. Each acre of Christmas trees provides the daily oxygen requirements of up to 18 people.

     Christmas tree farms are often run by families with employees hired to help during the spring and summer growing season and busy harvest months. Christmas tree farms help stimulate local economies as families travel to get their tree and visit local communities for meals and shopping. Iowa has over 100 family-run Christmas tree farms. Many areas have local Christmas tree farms so that you can support your local community and Christmas tree farmer. Look in your local newspaper or shopper to find a Christmas tree farm near you.

     Real Christmas trees are biodegradable and recyclable, unlike the plastic and metal artificial trees that eventually end up in our landfills. Once the holidays are over, real trees can be donated to local recycling programs where they might be used for mulch in your community gardens, parks, and trails, or fish habitat in lakes or ponds. You can also place your tree on your own property to provide a place for birds to perch at your bird feeding station or add wildlife habitat to a corner of your yard. If you chose to have a live Christmas tree, wait until spring to plant your tree or donate it to a local conservation organization for planting.

     To learn more about Christmas tree farms in Iowa, the types of trees commonly used as Christmas trees, or how to care for your live Christmas tree, visit  the Iowa Christmas Tree Growers Association website at



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