Should You Buy a Real or Fake Christmas Tree?

Xmas treeEvery year, the decision to get a natural or artificial Christmas tree is hotly debated in many households. There’s no clear answer and the decision often boils down to personal preference, but there are some facts the consumer should consider. Aside from being a bit less convenient, according to our research, buying a real tree can be better for the environment, our economy, and perhaps even our families. Here are the top ten reasons to buy a real, natural Christmas tree.

1. Christmas tree farming is environmentally sustainable. 98% of Christmas trees are harvested from farms, not forests. Since it takes 6-10 years for a tree to fully mature, during their growth trees provide habitat for wildlife and assist in reducing runoff and erosion. According to science writer Kimberly Crandell, “Due to their hardiness, Christmas trees can be planted on barren slopes where few other plants successfully grow, as well as fill in areas under power lines.”

2. Tree farms compensate for development and emissions in other regions. Growers often plant three seedlings for every one that is harvested amounting to over 46 million trees planted in 2012 alone. These trees sequester carbon and help clean our air. In an exploration of the math of “going green,” Crandell writes,  “An acre of Douglas fir trees stores approximately 1.4 metric tons of carbon each year.”

  “A single acre of Christmas trees provides the daily oxygen requirements of 18 people.” – University of Illinois Extension

3. Buying a real tree supports local, American farmers. Christmas tree farms exist in all 50 states meaning your tree is likely to come from a nearby farm. On the other hand, over 80% of artificial trees are manufactured in China.

4. Buying a real tree supports American jobs. More than 100,000 workers are employed full or part-time in the various stages of the Christmas tree industry. From planting to pruning and sheering to transport, Christmas trees represent a wide range of job opportunities for people with varying skills. Many of these jobs are in rural areas “providing community stability that goes far beyond direct economic impacts.” Since most artificial trees are manufactured in China, few jobs result from fake trees in America.

5. Real trees have a smaller carbon footprint. According to a 2009 study “an artificial tree with a life span of six years has three times more impact on climate change and resource depletion than a natural tree. Natural trees contribute to significantly less carbon dioxide emissions than the artificial tree.” Of course, this is largely due to the manufacturing process. The longer you reuse the tree, the lower its impact. “However, it would take approximately 20 years before the artificial tree would become a better solution regarding climate change,” the study reports.

6. Real trees can be recycled. More than 4,000 Christmas tree recycling programs exist in the U.S. Trees are chipped and used for multiple purposes like landscaping, firewood, erosion barriers, recreational structures, and more. 93% of real Christmas tree consumers recycle their trees in community recycling programs, their gardens or backyards. Fake trees are made of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, which is a non-recyclable plastic, i.e. they will exist for centuries in a landfill.

7. Buying a real tree provides an opportunity to create a family tradition. Whether it’s your local market, a roadside stand, or cutting it yourself, bundling up and picking out your tree is a wonderful way to make lasting family memories. It’s a great reason to get together every year and take a photo. Involving your kids in choosing your tree can be an interactive and rewarding experience for the whole family. Unfolding your tree from the box in storage or choosing it off the shelf of some big-box store hardly evokes the same magical experience.

8. Buying a real tree can be a way to become, or remain, connected with nature.  The benefits of the outdoors and interacting with nature abound. Not everyone can visit a tree farm, but if you have the chance I highly encourage you to bring your family.  Kids can learn about different types of trees, how they grow, farming, and crafts all in one afternoon! Take the opportunity to embrace fall pleasures like hot cocoa or cider, hayrides, photos with Santa and the beautiful scenery surrounding the farm.

9. Real trees fill your home with a beautiful woodland scent without artificial chemicals.

10. Whole trees can be replanted. Some tree farms are now offering the sale, or rental, of rooted trees for seasonal decoration. The trees retain their roots and are either bundled or potted, allowing the consumer to replant the tree after it serves its holiday purpose. It’s the perfect way to enjoy a Christmas tree with little to no impact.

So where can you get a natural Christmas tree? Check out the National Christmas Tree Association’s website which has a Tree Locator tool.

Since I was one month old, I’ve joined in my family’s tradition of cutting down our tree the weekend after Thanksgiving every year. When I moved out on my own, I found my own special tree farm and have been going there for twelve years. Joe’s Trees is the perfect example of the iconic American tree farm and this delightful holiday tradition.

“Too many things in our lives today are fake, plastic, and artificial. The look, the scent, and the very feel of a real tree are integral parts of the warm, homey atmosphere of our most festive season.” – Joe’s Trees

Risa at age 5 with the family’s Christmas tree.

Joe's Trees

Risa at Joe’s Trees in 2012.

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About Risa Pesapane

Risa is the Project Director for Rural System, Inc. and is an experienced research biologist and wildlife ecologist.


  1. Risa Pesapane says:

    Rural System recognizes the value and versatility of Christmas tree farming as an alternative to traditional agricultural crops. As pointed out in this article, Christmas trees can be an ideal “crop” for properties which are not well suited for farming because of certain limiting landscape characteristics. It’s also clear that Christmas trees are thriving billion dollar industry ( For this reason, Rural System has developed a business unit specifically for the intelligent farming of Christmas trees ( Expanding on #8 in this post, Rural System proposes to include a group which focuses on the shared benefits of nature observations for society and science (

  2. Risa,
    Thanks for pointing out the great benefits of real Christmas trees!

  3. Reasonable gains over time from the right crop in the right places with low energy costs and low or no wastes … not a bad idea.
    Thanks Risa.

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