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The Real Christmas Tree Guide

Posted by Louise Hyde on 19 December 2018 at 10:21 am

Following last year’s blog post on the sustainability of Christmas trees, we wanted to provide more guidance on how to be mindful of the resources used to bring a tree to your home. There is much to consider along the supply chain of a christmas tree, from the resources used to grow it, emissions involved in its transportation and finally how it is disposed of.

Around seven million commercially grown Christmas trees are bought in the UK each year. An average commercial Christmas tree takes eight to ten years to grow, is then cut down and transported to shops to be picked up and only stay in the home for around two weeks. If we took away the cultural symbolism of the tree, we would probably see this practice as decadent. So here are some ways to consider the environment in your festive decisions.

Real Tree Option 1: Replanting

The Tree that Keeps Giving

Instead of buying a new tree each year why not buy one with roots and replant it? The amount of carbon dioxide a  living tree can absorb is approximately 1.8 times its dry weight, so this option could help the environment, save you money, and cut out the hassle of standing in Christmas queues. You can reuse it each year and it is up to you whether it comes inside or stays in the garden. It could even stay in your family for generations and become a new Christmas tradition. As an added bonus, a living tree also won’t drop needles meaning less work in the years to come.

1) Suitability:

  • Replanting your tree will depend on your garden space and accessibility. An alternative (if you want to bring the tree in again each year) is to put the plant in a large pot.
  • This may be a difficult option for those with mobility issues.
  • A tree in a pot large enough to sustain it is likely to be very heavy and may not be moveable in practice.
  • Might be unsuitable for those in high rise flats.
  • Consider if your local climate and soil quality (if planting directly into the ground) will support your chosen tree.

2) Type and Size of Tree:

  • Unfortunately you cannot replant a tree that is cut: you need one with a healthy root ball that is wrapped in burlap.
  • Think about the size how it will fit in your home: if you buy a younger tree research what size it will grow to, alternatively you can buy one fully grown.  A younger tree – up to 1m tall is also more likely to survive as the roots are less likely to have been cut.  Be careful to ensure that any tree you buy already potted was indeed pot grown. Trees that have been lifted and had their roots heavily trimmed to fit into a pot are unlikely to survive.
  • The three most popular types in the UK are evergreen firs, spruce and pine.

3) Sourcing: What to Look For

4) Caring for Your Tree at Home

  • Consider the flexibility of your room layout and ideally place the tree away from direct heat sources and near natural light.
  • You will need to top up its water every day or when needed.
  • Despite these protective measures your tree will dry out easily indoors, they should ideally spend no more than ten days inside before returning outside.
  • The transition from indoor to outdoor can shock the tree so try moving it to an interim area such as a porch, or garage to reduce the shock. This may be difficult for those in flats.

Real Tree Option 2: Buying to Dispose

Follow steps 2 & 3 above with the exception that you can now buy a cut tree and will not have to accommodate for future growth or climate compatibility. However, buying a type that is compatible for the UK climate provides more promise that it was grown in the UK and will have a smaller travel related carbon footprint.

How to Recycle Your Tree Responsibly

Of the seven million trees that are bought each year, it is estimated that the majority head to landfill to be recycled by local councils. From there, they can be turned into wood chips for paths or soil conditioning. This or burning your tree is greener than it naturally decomposing at landfill, as this process produces methane gas which is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (Carbon Trust). Discover where to recycle your tree locally here.

Overall, in the real tree category opt for replanting if you can, or if unsuitable make sure to dispose of it responsibly. Also, do not forget the wider picture of the energy needed to transport the trees per year. Thanks for reading the natural tree tips and look out for our upcoming blog on ‘Artificial and Alternative Trees’.


Links by topic:


Choosing Tips:


How to Care for and Plant Your Tree:


Recycling Your Tree:


Related articles:

Last year's blog: Which type of Christmas tree is best for the environment?


About the author:

Louise joined NEF in 2018 after achieving her MA (Hons) in Environmental Sustainability and Geography and her Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Dundee. For her honours dissertation Louise researched the effectiveness of district heating as an environmental solution to reduce fuel poverty in Dundee. She is interested in sustainable energy and reducing fuel poverty. 

If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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RandyBonnetteComment left on: 25 April 2019 at 11:06 am

Anyone from Glasgow here? I found a great resource for local recycling community. Here's the article Where to recycle your Christmas tree in and around Glasgow this year to write my paper. What other tips could you share with me? I mean about recycling strategies (I'm a post graduate international student from the US studying Environment and Nature). 

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