Real Christmas trees called ‘greener’ choice

Many trees come from British Columbia | Providing plenty of water is essential to proper care

Toso Bozic takes a ribbing from friends who visit his home during the holiday season. As they gather around the family Christmas tree, comments are inevitable.

The woodlot specialist with Alberta Agriculture has an artificial tree.

“I don’t have a real Christmas tree. I have a plastic one,” said Bozic, readily admitting his surprising choice.

“The reason is my wife. With me, I would always get a real Christmas tree. But I’ve been married now for 20 years and I’ve learned a few things. I always make a joke, do I want to be right or do I want to be happy?”

Family allergies and the mess sometimes created by real trees resulted in Bozic’s choice — or rather, that of his wife — but if those weren’t issues, he’d have a balsam fir in the living room every year.

“It has an incredible smell. And also the difference in the needles, they are very soft and smooth. The balsam fir to me is probably the best.”

Tree farmer Tim Loewen of Pine Meadows Tree Farm in Chilliwack, B.C., chooses trees based on the criteria of most farmers — it has to reflect good breeding.

“I think I pick different trees than my family does,” Loewen said.

“Because I’m out there growing them and seeing them, I try to pick a structurally perfect tree that shows good genetics.”

Canada harvests 2.5 million Christmas trees a year from the 82,700 acres planted for the purpose, according to the Canadian Christmas Tree Growers Association.

Loewen has 135 acres of trees, though that includes all kinds of conifers, deciduous trees and shrubs for the other part of his business.

Sales of both wholesale and retail Christmas trees had been “about average” as of Dec. 16, and wholesale demand came about a week earlier than usual, around the third week in November.

Many Christmas trees sold on the Prairies come from British Columbia but also from Washington, Idaho and especially Oregon.

Loewen said it’s hard for Canadian operations to compete against American growers with better access to labour, crop inputs and land.

“They have cheap land, which we don’t have in the Fraser Valley, and they have cheap land by Alberta standards, too,” he said.

Loewen also has no doubt about the real versus artificial tree debate.

“There’s no contest. A real tree is far better for the environment. On artificial trees, just the manufacturing process and the carbon footprint and the fossil fuels and the average life span isn’t near as long as they think it’s going to be. They’re terrible for the environment,” he said.

“Our trees scrub the air. It’s a crop. Our farm, for example, provides oxygen for about 25,000 people. The factory pumping out fake trees is certainly not doing that. It’s probably undoing that.”

Once the choice to get a real tree is made, Bozic offers this advice.

First, consider the space. Many people get trees that are too large. Calculate both height and diameter.

Industry data indicates most farmed trees have an 80 percent taper, so a seven foot tree would be five and a half feet wide at the bottom.

There are many tree varieties to choose from, including various species of fir, spruce and pine. Fir needles are softer than spruce, and pine needles are longer than either of the others.

“The only thing people sometimes don’t like about the fir, they have resin along the bark and they can be sticky. Some people don’t like the stickiness when they’re handling the tree,” Bozic said.

Once the tree is up, put it in a container that will hold several litres of water, and water it regularly.

“If you do it the proper way, it can last four or five weeks easily.”

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