Jill Fehrenbacher

HOW TO: Green Your Christmas Tree

by , 12/19/12

Rosemary Tree, Living Xmas Tree, Potted Xmas Tree, Rosemary Christmas Tree, Cardboard Xmas Tree, Jill Fehrenbacher, Cardboard Christmas Tree

Christmas trees are one of the most enjoyable traditions of the holiday season, and there are lots of easy ways to go green with your Christmas tree: from using living potted Christmas trees, to recycled cardboard trees, to buying LED Xmas lights. After weighing the choices every December for years, and going on my own personal quest to have the greenest Christmas tree ever, here are the most eco-friendly tips I can offer on greening your holiday tree:

Rosemary Tree, Living Xmas Tree, Potted Xmas Tree, Rosemary Christmas Tree

1. AIM FOR A LIVING TREE IF YOU CAN

Living trees produce oxygen and suck up carbon dioxide, helping to mitigate global warming. They also last for years (if you can keep them alive), and you don’t have to kill a tree in order to decorate your house for a week but still get that ‘cut tree’ look and smell. The downside to live Xmas trees is that they are usually pretty small, and its hard to keep many varieties alive indoors when they’ve been inside in a heated environment for more than 10 days.


I’ve tried the living Christmas tree thing for years and, for many years, always seem to manage to kill my little coniferous friend by mid January. Apparently I didn’t know back then what I know now: If you get a living douglas fir or any sort of pine tree, you can only keep it in the house for about a week before it will start to die due to the change in temperature. If you get one of these guys, you HAVE to bring it outside after about 10 days. They can deal with cold weather just fine – just make sure their containers have ample drainage for snow (sadly most containers that your tree will be sold in do not contain drainage). If you are considering replanting a potted Christmas tree, read up on these tips on how to do it right..

Rosemary Tree, Living Xmas Tree, Potted Xmas Tree, Rosemary Christmas Tree

If you’re lazy, go for a Rosemary tree.

This year I got a Rosemary tree – which is relatively easy to grow indoors. You can find these cute little trees in Whole Foods. They smell great, can thrive indoors, can easily be decorated with lights and ornaments, and produce yummy herbs for cooking. What more could you ask for? Just be warned, they won’t stay in Christmas tree shape as they grow. You’ll also need to read up on how to properly care for Rosemary.

Other living tree options?
Rent a tree from your city (if you live in Portland or San Francisco), which can be replanted on city streets come January.

2. IF YOU BUY A CUT TREE, BE SURE TO RECYCLE IT

There’s nothing sadder than seeing a cut pine Xmas tree go completely to waste on the side of the road because the owner couldn’t be bothered to recycle it. There are a million things that can be done with cut trees. A simple phone call to Earth911 will help you figure out how and where to recycle your cut Xmas tree.

+ Earth911

Cardboard Tree, Peter Rojas, Cardboard Christmas TreeJill Fehrenbacher, Cardboard Christmas Tree, Cardboard Tree, Cardboard Xmas Tree, Cardboard Holiday Tree

3. IF YOU WANT TO GO FAKE TREE – TRY CARDBOARD

Green bristly fake Christmas trees are almost always made in China with loads of nasty chemicals (including lead!) that you absolutely don’t want in your house. If you like the idea of having an artificial tree that can stuffed in the closet and reused year after year, skip the plastic made-in-china-with-lead-version, and go for something eco-friendly and unique such as the cardboard tree, a flat-pack plywood tree, or Buro North’s beautiful ply CNC-milled tree.

+ Cardboard Tree
+ CNC Plywood Tree

+ 6 Gorgeous Green ‘Fake’ Trees That Are Better Than The Real Deal

Cardboard Christmas Tree, Cardboard Xmas TreeBuro North Eco Christmas Tree, Ply Christmas Tree, CNC Christmas Tree, CNC Xmas Tree, Ply Xmas Tree

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4. DECK THE HALLS WITH LED LIGHTS

LED Christmas lights consume 90% less energy than incandescent lights, they’re made with less toxic chemicals, the bulbs never die, so there is no reason not to switch to LED Xmas lights at this point. Unfortunately some brands of LED lights are flickery with off-putting blue-hued light, so look for ‘Warm White’ LED lights to imitate that warm tungsten glow. I found some warm white LED Christmas lights at IKEA which have a really beautiful tone of light, unique shapes, and a very pleasing (non flickery) glow. I recommend them highly.

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7 Comments

  1. JakeyM February 15, 2013 at 11:44 pm

    I agree, but people need to understand that adding Solar to their property is an asset which could increase the long term value of their home if / when they choose to sell. With the environment the way it is going we are not able to disregard any solution that gives 100 % free power at no cost to both the customer and more significantly the earth!

  2. Wade Hewitt December 19, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    I’m a fan of the Charley Brown Christmas Tree. It’s small and I can use it for many years without hurting the environment.

  3. Justin Mayfield December 19, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    These are great tips! Though buying a cut tree is actually a pretty green thing to do already:

    http://www.locallifetacoma.org/twofivetrees/2012/11/26/5-reasons-to-buy-a-real-christmas-tree-this-season/

  4. silverbells January 16, 2011 at 6:52 am

    For several years now we have used a small dead tree or tree branch with a pleasing shape,that we find on our walks in the woods. We put it in a Christmas tree stand and decorate it just like a regular tree, and it looks very pretty. Sometime in the future we may paint the tree white for a different look.

  5. Loft152 January 8, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    Fun to see the creative alternatives here! We, too, were challenged with the real vs artificial debate this year. In the end we decided against a real tree and decided to make our natural & reusable tree from excess maple plywood from my partner’s shop. If you’re interested, check it out at: http://bit.ly/74RWOK

  6. travelina December 28, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    Yes, the trouble with live trees is that they aren’t meant to live indoors. We always buy a cut tree and recycle it in our backyard. We cut off the branches and use them to cover spring bulbs, and the trunks make good landscaping ties to help stop erosion on our hillside.

  7. NK December 26, 2008 at 10:42 am

    Hi Jill;
    Thanks for the live tree tips. I got a living tree this year and I am really hoping to get some extended life out of it!
    It’s great to see the pics of you and the sweetest Petey too.
    -nicki

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