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NC State Extension

Environmental Impacts of Christmas Trees

What’s best?

Consumers often ask which is better for the environment — to use a real farm-grown Christmas tree or an artificial one? The North Carolina Christmas Tree Association has put together an interesting comparison: Review the comparisons at: The Environmental Choice: The real Christmas tree vs the fake Christmas tree.

Trees and wildlife

Song bird nest with eggs in Fraser fir Christmas tree.

Song bird nest with eggs in Fraser fir Christmas tree.

One important contribution that real Christmas tree production provides is green-space for wildlife to live and forage in. Christmas tree growers accomplish this by managing their ground covers. Learn more at: Weeds Are Out — Ground Covers Are In!

In many ways, a Christmas tree plantation in western North Carolina is like a woodland meadow. The trees themselves provide shelter for smaller birds and mammals. The diversity of ground covers around trees provide pollen, nectar, support insects which in turn are food, and provide seeds and forage. It is a good habitat for mice and rabbits and ground dwelling birds such as grouse and quail. Song birds build nests in trees. Even the decaying stumps of of the trees that were cut harbor insects that are food for wood peckers and flickers.

But wildlife can also include the smallest foragers. Christmas tree farms, because of the flowering ground covers growing around the trees, provide habitat for native bees and other pollinators. Learn more at: The Pollinator Study.

What about pesticides?

In western North Carolina, Fraser fir Christmas trees are produced in areas where tourism and retirement homes bring people to the area who have little prior contact with farming. Growers are often criticized for using too many pesticides.

What pests do Fraser fir growers have to control? Why are insecticides even necessary? Learn more at: What’s eating your tree?

Pesticide use continues to decline as growers adapt integrated pest management (IPM) practices. These reductions have been substantial. Pest management surveys conducted by N.C. Cooperative Extension specialists have documented a 71% decrease in pesticide use from 2000 to 2013. Learn more at: What pesticides are used on Fraser fir production in western North Carolina?

So how does IPM help growers reduce pesticides? Learn more at: What is an IPM farm?

Many people in western North Carolina have expressed concerns that cancer rates are higher in the area because of pesticides used on Christmas trees. In fact, cancer rates are typically lower in the counties producing Christmas trees than elsewhere in NC. See the most recent cancer rates. Learn more at: Health concerns about pesticide use in Christmas trees.

Written By

Jill Sidebottom, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionDr. Jill SidebottomExtension Specialist (Mountain Conifer IPM) Call Dr. Jill Email Dr. Jill Forestry & Environmental Resources
NC State Extension, NC State University
Page Last Updated: 1 year ago
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