Focus on the forest for the holidays – benefits of real trees, wreaths and boughs

Bringing fresh greenery into your home around the holidays is environmentally friendly and healthy for you and your family.

Photo credit: Julie Crick, MSU

Photo credit: Julie Crick, MSU

If you have ever travelled through the rolling hills of west central Michigan, it may be no surprise that Michigan is the third largest producer of Christmas trees in the U.S., with 42,000 acres, three million trees and a dozen varieties. Michigan State University Extension helps support Christmas tree growers so they can deliver their best products locally in Michigan and to the national market.

The best part is – for each tree that is harvested, three or more are planted for harvesting in future years. This means cleaner air and water for the state. Studies have shown that young, evergreen trees are some of the most effective trees at releasing oxygen into the air and absorbing carbon dioxide, other gasses from the air. In addition, Christmas trees stabilize the soil and are sometimes the only viable crop on soils that support little else (e.g. Kalkaska sands).

Compared to artificial products, fresh holiday greenery is biodegradable and helps support more local jobs. Artificial greens are often made oversees, from plastics or aluminum, both of which take years to biodegrade in a landfill after their average use of five to seven years. Conversely, fresh Christmas trees and boughs can be composted and many communities offer a drop off area in January to help facilitate that process. Furthermore, the sale of fresh cut trees and holiday greenery adds $1.3 million/year to our Michigan economy. Visit the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s website to learn more about the Christmas Tree Industry .

In addition to environmental benefits, studies have also shown that greenery and plants can cheer us up and eliminate worries and anxiety at home. Cuttings from woody evergreens can release phytoncides in the home. Phytocides are an essential oil released by trees to help protect them from insects and disease. When inhaled, these oils reduce stress and improve immune responses, both of which can be beneficial during the holiday season when days are shorter and exposure to cold and flu germs increases.

If you have your own land, consider cutting your own tree or greenery. Look for a cluster of evergreens, and cut down a small tree that is growing within the cluster so that its removal will help free up space for the other trees. At this time of year, it is best to cut the entire tree rather than pruning a tree that will be left standing. When an evergreen tree is pruned in the fall, it tends to form buds to replace the branch that is cut. These buds typically do not survive Michigan winters and the result increases stress on the tree. Instead, cut one to two small trees; use one for a Christmas tree, and use the boughs from the other to create wreaths and other festive holiday displays around the home. These not only provide fresh aromatic greenery, but healthier trees in your woodlot and a healthier you because you had great physical exercise in the process.

Michigan forests offer so many benefits to us, especially during the Holidays. Decorate with fresh greens over artificial, consider holiday meals with forest edibles, and make some time to stroll in a forest.