Tip Sheets

Keep it green: Pick, then plant this year’s Christmas tree

Media Contact

Lindsey Knewstub

As people gear up for the holiday season, picking the perfect Christmas tree is high on many families’ to-do lists. But as awareness of climate change and its impacts has increased, some may be wondering about how to honor a beloved tradition while still reducing its overall carbon footprint. Cornell University experts offer tips on how to strike a balance by picking and planting, the right tree.


Daniel Weitoish

Arborist at Cornell Botanic Gardens

Media note: A video of Weitoish offering tips for picking the perfect Christmas tree can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/1Eh73FLX3hg and downloaded here.

“Americans love to bring a freshly cut evergreen tree into their homes for decoration at Christmastime. So many family traditions revolve around this custom of introducing one of nature’s outdoor beauties into the indoor setting. Now, in the era of climate change, we all know that cutting down trees—even to honor a beloved tradition—counters the positive impact of trees in reducing atmospheric carbon.

“This year, why not consider mitigating your personal carbon impact by planting a tree to replace the one cut for holiday decoration? Even a small landscape will benefit from a new tree. Species that thrive in New York state and are suitable for a typical residential yard include Serviceberry, Dogwood, and Mountain ash. If you’re fortunate enough to have a large outdoor space, consider carbon-gobbling varieties such as White pine or American sycamore.

“Urban dwellers can offset their Christmas trees, too. Organizations such as the Arbor Day Foundation and the Earth Day Network work to increase forests across the world.  Many smaller cities have tree-planting initiatives as well.

“Municipalities also help with responsible recycling of cut trees. Check to see if your city, town, or village picks up trees for mulching and composting. Your decorative tree can serve as habitat for wildlife in the back corner of your property, while it naturally decomposes over several years.”

Brian Eshenaur

Sr. Extension Associate, Invasive Species Management

“2019 was an excellent growing season for Christmas trees. We had more moderate summer temperatures and good rainfall this year. Those suitable growing conditions allowed trees to put on healthy new growth and the fine weather gave Christmas tree growers good conditions to prune trees so they will be in great shape for harvest. This year’s early-November cold snap was also beneficial in ‘setting’ the needles which is good for longer needle retention in some tree species.

“Choose a variety and shape that fits your needs. Many growers are producing a wide variety of firs, spruces and even old-fashioned pines. Each variety tree offers its own shape, color, fragrance, and even branch stiffness which is important to consider for holding ornaments.

“Trees always look smaller in the field so don’t forget the tape measure. Measure the floor to ceiling height before you go tree shopping and then while choosing so you end up with a tree that fits nicely into your home.

“Don’t be afraid to bend the branches and shoots. Green needles should not come off in your hands. Also, the shoots should be flexible. Avoid a tree if the needles are shed or if the shoots break instead of flexing.

“Once and a while we hear from people concerned about the ‘single use’ aspect of real Christmas trees. But considering the alternative of a plastic tree produced then shipped from overseas, which will eventually end up in a landfill, the real trees have their benefits. They are a renewable resource and by buying locally you are supporting growers that will continue to maintain their fields which are part of the greenspace we all value.”

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