Christmas Prep 4 – Trees

For part 4 of my Christmas prep guide, I’m talking about trees. I’ve mentioned before that my dad worked in forestry and gardening for his whole working career. When he worked in forestry, our Christmas tree was one of the perks of the job and we always had a real tree growing up. Buying a Christmas tree and bringing it home to decorate is one of my favourite parts of Christmas. In fact, if I had to choose whether to have a tree or presents, I’d choose the tree anytime.

I’ve set my stall out. I’m firmly on the side of getting a real tree, but that wouldn’t be a very fair blog post! This recent Telegraph article sets out the basic pros and cons of a real tree vs a fake tree, but there are actually a lot of options to consider. Let’s explore them:

  • Fake tree. Researchers estimate that a plastic tree needs to be used for ten years to offset the carbon used in its production. I’ve searched online, but I can’t find any made of recycled plastic, which would at least utilise materials already present rather than producing more materials from finite resources. If you really want to buy a fake tree, do plenty of research and buy quality so it lasts and can be resold or passed on to family or friends. 
  • Real tree. Always look for a local grower, who supports sustainable forestry, because any tree that has had to travel has a carbon footprint. I only realised when I started researching this blog post (perhaps rather naively!) that some real Christmas trees sold in the UK have been imported from outside the UK!
  • Rent a real tree. There are Christmas tree growers who rent out their trees, which are then returned to them after the festive season for replanting. You can even rent the same tree year after year. The trees are grown in special pots and when they are too big for being an indoor Christmas tree they are donated to forests to carry on growing.
  • Grow your own tree. You can buy a baby Christmas tree in a pot and bring it inside for Christmas each year and leave it outside the rest of the year. This tree will need to be re-potted as it grows and eventually planted somewhere when it is too big to bring in.
  • Upcycled wooden tree. If you’re handy with a hammer and nails, why not try making an upcycled wooden tree from a pallet, wood offcuts or driftwood? There are lots of ideas and tutorials on Pinterest.
  • Branch tree. If you live near some public woodland, enjoy a winter walk and keep your eye out for a fallen branch to use as a tree. You can suspend your branch above your dining or kitchen table or put it in a pot and decorate with fairy lights and decorations. There are some ideas here and here.
  • House plant. If like me, you love your house plants, why not decorate them for Christmas to use as a tree. 
  • Books. For book lovers, you could fashion a tree shape from a tall stack of books and decorate with garlands or lights. 

When it comes to tree decorations, you can tell from our pictures that we favour an eclectic look! There are some family heirlooms, some more recent decorations, some made by the children, some made by me, some given as gifts. Yes, we have tinsel, which we bought before we started our zero waste journey. We have fairy lights too, but if they break, we replace the bulbs to get more use out of them and then recycle at the local tip at the end of their life.

Here are some ideas for more environmentally friendly tree decorations:

  • Popcorn garlands, paper garlands or dried fruit garlands instead of tinsel.
  • Dried orange slices and sticks of cinnamon hung on ribbon.
  • Iced gingerbread shapes hung on ribbon.
  • Stained glass window biscuits hung on ribbon.
  • Paper snowflake decorations.
  • Fabric decorations made from fabric scraps. Felt is easy to work with.
  • Upcycled household items, such as cotton reels or corks, turned into decorations.
  • Pinecones hung from a thread.
  • Sticks tied together in a star shape.

Again, Pinterest is full of ideas for home made Christmas decorations. You can also find some more ideas in Christmas prep 2.

Finally, we need to discuss what to do with your tree after the festive season is over. Obviously, a fake tree should be carefully put away for next year, sold or rehomed to avoid it ending up in landfill. A tree made from books can all be returned to your bookshelf and your houseplant can go back to being a houseplant. Your rental tree goes back to the farm and your homegrown tree goes back outside.

A cut real tree should be disposed of responsibly. We remove the branches from ours and burn the trunk on our fire. Wood is carbon neutral when burnt – it only releases as much carbon as it has absorbed during its life. We either compost the branches at home, dispose of them in garden waste at the local tip or leave them for the council to pick up. Most councils have a scheme where they collect Christmas trees to be mulched and composted or accept them at the tip for the same purpose. 

What type of Christmas tree do you prefer? Have you experimented with any Christmas tree alternatives? Do you have favourite decorations? Let me know in the comments.

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