Cutting down your own Christmas tree is a fun family tradition that gives you adventure, fresh air and a respect for nature. It’s a fun excuse for a little physical exercise in the great outdoors and wonderful reason for your family to spend some time together.
While you might expect a pro-nature argument against cutting down a live tree, it’s actually the opposite. When you choose a real tree over a plastic artificial one, you help both the environment and your community. While there are benefits of artificial trees (convenience and accessibility), we hope you’ll consider a real tree this year, for environmental and economic reasons. A there’s no better way to find the perfect real tree than getting out there and cutting down your own!
Benefits of a real tree
Artificial trees will last for seven to ten years in your home, but centuries in a landfill. Artificial trees are produced in overseas factories, with less stringent environmental regulations, poorer working conditions and lower wages. On the other hand, real Christmas trees are produced locally, from sunlight, rainfall and soil. In the U.S. alone, there are more than 15,000 Christmas tree farms. Those farms grow approximately 350 million trees and employ over 100,000 people.
Planted like an agricultural crop, these trees provide wildlife habitat, air filtration and prevent soil erosion as they grow until they are harvested and replaced by another tree. Each tree grows for an average of eight years. A fresh cut Christmas tree is recyclable and biodegradable. Once used, the tree can be chipped for mulch, burned, or land filled, where it will naturally break down over time. There are also thousands of Christmas tree recycling programs across the U.S. Trees are used to make sand and soil erosion barriers or placed in ponds for fish shelter.
Forest or farm
If you want to cut down your own tree, you can either go to a tree farm or venture into the woods to find your own. If you want that extra sense of adventure, head into the woods, but be prepared. Some areas require a permit to cut down a tree (usually a nominal fee). There may be areas where cutting is restricted or allowed only during a certain time. The size of tree (diameter of the trunk at the base) may be regulated and gas powered tools (chainsaws) may not be allowed, so tools are limited to axes or handsaws.
There are lots of benefits of cutting down a live tree from the forest. It provides more room for remaining trees to grow, which are less stressed and better situated to cope with disease and insects. Reducing competition allows for easier access to water, nutrients, and sunlight and reduces wildfire risk by providing less potential fuel for a fire.
If you go to a Christmas tree farm, you will be supporting your local community. Farm trees will be much more uniform in size and shape. Trees are usually grown in rows so they get plenty of sunlight to form a symmetrical shape. They’re usually anywhere from 3 to 10 feet in height and cost an average of $55/tree. Christmas trees are grown in all 50 states, so there’s bound to be a farm by you (check out this website for state-by-state info).
Tips for cutting your own tree
We’ve been cutting down our own Christmas tree from a local farm (Eckert’s in Belleville, Illinois) for the last few years. It’s become one of our family’s favorite annual traditions. Riding the tractor out to the field and choosing the perfect tree is always a fun outing for the kids. Plus, there’s always a lot of other fun holiday related activities to do at Eckert’s, including making gingerbread houses, visiting Santa and story time.
Over the last few years, we’ve learned a few lessons about cutting down our own tree, which we’re happy to pass on to you! So, before you embark on your own tree-chopping journey, here are some things to keep in mind.
- Don’t go too early – the best time for cutting your own Christmas tree is between late November and mid-December. The average time a well-watered cut tree holds its needles is 3-4 weeks.
- Measure your space – make sure you measure both the place in your house where the tree with go (height & width) and the space in your vehicle where you’ll be transporting your tree.
- Take a tape measure – a lot of farms will provide measuring tapes or sticks, but it’s always best to bring your own. Expert parenting tip: if you have more than one kid, bring a tape measure for each so there’s no fighting over it.
- Boots and gloves – wear sturdy boots that protect your feet and good, heavy-duty work gloves. Sunglasses also protect your eyes from rogue pine needs. Wet wipes are great for removing sap from hands and fingers.
- Do a walk through – before you choose your tree, walk through the grounds and scope them all out. Sometimes trees are arranged by size, shape, breed, etc. Get a lay of the land before making your final decision. Also, when you think you’ve found the perfect tree, walk-around the entire tree to make sure there are no bald spots, dead patches or animals living in the tree.
- Test for freshness – in order to make sure your chosen tree is fresh, run a branch through your enclosed hand. The needles should not come off easily. Bend the outer branches – they should be pliable. If they are brittle and snap easily, the tree is too dry.
- Lightweight saw – it’s best to use a lightweight saw that is meant for cutting live trees. Most farms will provide these for you; just call the farm ahead of your visit to make sure.
- Cut low – cut your Christmas tree low to the ground and quickly, if possible. The low cut will allow the tree to re-sprout a central leader to form another Christmas tree for the future. Once the tree starts to lean over, finish your saw cuts quickly. Don’t push the tree over. That can cause the bark to rip and splinter. It is best to have an assistant support the tree as you are cutting.
- Shake it – the tree may well have become home to birds, bugs and spiders during the year, so once it’s cut, shake it! A vigorous shaking will not only get rid of loose pine needles, but will also evict Charlotte (and her web). Lots of farms will shakes your chosen tree on a mechanical shaker for no additional cost.
- Be careful during transport – be careful not to break branches or bend the thin part at the top. Also, you should prepare your vehicle for transport. If you’re putting on top of your car, bring ropes or tie-downs. If you’re going to put it in the vehicle, bring a large tarp or blanket to keep any pine needles from shedding all over.
- Ensure freshness – when you get your tree home, take a 1 inch slice off the bottom of the trunk where the tree was cut to allow it to soak up nutrients and water faster. Get the tree into water as soon as possible. Make sure the water is not too cold (it can shock the tree).
I hope you and your family try a real tree this holiday season! And for an extra adventure, cut down your own tree. Make it a family tradition. Don’t feel guilty – it’s good for the environment! And it feels great to get outside together and choose a tree as a family. I guarantee you’ll have fun and make amazing memories while you’re at it. Don’t forget your camera!