CUT TREES

While a Christmas-tree plantation undoubtedly produces more oxygen over its 7- to 12-year lifespan than the average cabbage field, any vast agribusiness monoculture has its drawbacks. Without crop diversity, ecosystems become unbalanced, and disease, insect, and soil-fertility problems can spiral out of control. That means pesticides, fungicides, and chemical fertilizers end up being used.

There are more natural alternatives. Ivan Maluski, conservation coordinator for the Sierra Club of Portland, suggests seeking out smaller growers. “Growing Christmas trees is a nice way for a small farmer within 50 miles of Portland to make a little extra income,” he explains. “Many U-cut tree farms are small-scale operations, which are your best bet to avoid pesticides—and you’re guaranteed a local product when it’s U-cut.”

Many Oregonians get a permit ($5 at Mt Hood National Forest Headquarters, 16400 Champion Way, Sandy, 503-668-1700) to cut their own Christmas trees on National Forest land, a seasonal ritual that the Sierra Club supports. “It gets people into the forest, and it’s a great way to connect with your family and with nature,” Maluski says.

When the holiday fun is over, be responsible: Don’t send your Christmas tree to the landfill.

Preparation

When you get your tree home, make a 1/2-inch cut on the butt to allow for absorption, and put it in water as soon as possible. When you’re ready to decorate, place the tree in a sturdy stand and position it in a cool place, away from heat sources. A spot near a drafty north window is ideal. If the tree isn’t going inside immediately, store it in a bucket of water in a cool area away from wind and sun.

The average cut tree will absorb a quart to a gallon of water per day. No need for additives—plain water is best. If the water level drops below the cut end of the trunk, sap can fill the pores and the tree won’t be able to absorb more water.

Miniature white lights are coolest and keep the tree from drying out as quickly. Be careful of all other kinds, particularly any vintage lighting: Check for frayed wire insulation and broken sockets.