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As people gear up for the holiday season, picking the perfect Christmas tree is high on many families’ to-do lists. But as awareness of climate change and its impacts has increased, some may be wondering about how to honor a beloved tradition while still reducing its overall carbon footprint. Cornell University experts offer tips on how to strike a balance by picking and planting, the right tree.

“Americans love to bring a freshly cut evergreen tree into their homes for decoration at Christmastime," says Cornell Botanic Gardens arborist Daniel Weitoish. "So many family traditions revolve around this custom of introducing one of nature’s outdoor beauties into the indoor setting. Now, in the era of climate change, we all know that cutting down trees—even to honor a beloved tradition—counters the positive impact of trees in reducing atmospheric carbon.

Weitoish says that city dwellers can also take a green approach to disposing of their trees after Christmas.

“Urban dwellers can offset their Christmas trees, too," he says. "Organizations such as the Arbor Day Foundation and the Earth Day Network work to increase forests across the world. Many smaller cities have tree-planting initiatives as well. Municipalities also help with responsible recycling of cut trees. Check to see if your city, town, or village picks up trees for mulching and composting. Your decorative tree can serve as habitat for wildlife in the back corner of your property, while it naturally decomposes over several years.”

Brian Eshenaur is a plant pathologist specializing in plant diagnostics and a senior extension associate with the New York State Integrated Pest Management program.

“2019 was an excellent growing season for Christmas trees," Eshenaur says. "We had more moderate summer temperatures and good rainfall this year. Those suitable growing conditions allowed trees to put on healthy new growth and the fine weather gave Christmas tree growers good conditions to prune trees so they will be in great shape for harvest. This year’s early-November cold snap was also beneficial in ‘setting’ the needles which is good for longer needle retention in some tree species."

Here is Eshenaur's advice for cutting down your own tree"

“Choose a variety and shape that fits your needs. Many growers are producing a wide variety of firs, spruces and even old-fashioned pines. Each variety tree offers its own shape, color, fragrance, and even branch stiffness which is important to consider for holding ornaments.

“Trees always look smaller in the field so don’t forget the tape measure. Measure the floor to ceiling height before you go tree shopping and then while choosing so you end up with a tree that fits nicely into your home.

“Don’t be afraid to bend the branches and shoots. Green needles should not come off in your hands. Also, the shoots should be flexible. Avoid a tree if the needles are shed or if the shoots break instead of flexing.

“Once and a while we hear from people concerned about the ‘single use’ aspect of real Christmas trees. But considering the alternative of a plastic tree produced then shipped from overseas, which will eventually end up in a landfill, the real trees have their benefits. They are a renewable resource and by buying locally you are supporting growers that will continue to maintain their fields which are part of the greenspace we all value.”

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