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O Christmas tree, much pleasure do you bring us

Fresh piney scent: check. Fluffy, symmetrical silhouette: check. Not too big, not too small and just the right shade of green: check. With less than two weeks until festivities, a lot can go into finding the right Christmas tree. Some say, 2013 is a good year for natural trees and the best are going fast. It’s a nice change from the declines seen last year.

“Christmas trees are kind of the last thing people pick up, especially if they are doing a fresh-cut tree. Typically during the week it can be a little slower but definitely on the weekends it can be quite busy” said St. Jacobs Country Gardens’ Linda MacLeod-Biglow.

What she has also noticed is that people are buying trees earlier every year, no doubt hoping to snatch up choice morsels for their living rooms.

“Always, what we would call the premium trees, the more unique, trees go first. We almost sold out of the noble firs and the rocky mountain fir –those guys always go first. But all in all we are basically right where we would expect to be for this time during the holiday season,” she said.

Statistics Canada’s 2012 Christmas numbers published last month show that last year the nation’s consumers opted more for the artificial version, with the value of fresh Christmas trees in 2012 down 2.3 per cent from $53.3 million in 2011. Meanwhile, the value of imported artificial trees from China rose to $48.5 million from $45.8 million in 2011.

If reducing your carbon footprint is a priority The David Suzuki Foundation urges consumers to buy locally and from farms that use few pesticides. Chopping down your own tree, with a permit, is also a good option, as in some provinces the activity can help clean unwanted trees from hydro right-of-ways.

Linda MacLeod-Biglow of St. Jacobs Country Gardens shows off a prize tree from among those that have been disappearing from stores this week. [Elena Maystruk / The Observer]
Linda MacLeod-Biglow of St. Jacobs Country Gardens shows off a prize tree from among those that have been disappearing from stores this week. [Elena Maystruk / The Observer]
If you’re buying an artificial tree, the foundation urges keeping the tree longer than six years and avoiding polyvinyl chlorides (PVCs) which are hard on the environments and can pose health hazards.

According to a 2009 study by Montreal-based sustainability consulting firm Ellipsos Inc., there’s much truth to that.

Assuming an artificial tree lasts about six years, it still has three times more impact on climate change than its naturally grown counterpart.

MacLeod-Biglow said consumers should decide for themselves what is best for their Christmas showpiece, though the real thing is better for the environment, she contests.

“People are interested in something that is going to last so they are definitely interested in where trees come from. We get a lot of questions like, ‘Are these grown in Ontario?’ Before, people would be concerned about cut trees, thinking it’s like a deforestation type of [business]. But it’s a crop like any other crop. They are grown to be Christmas trees; they are planted knowing one day they will be in someone’s living room. It’s a long-growing crop, good for the soil.”

While buying local is a common concern for tree buyers, at St. Jacobs Country Gardens many of the imported trees from Vancouver are the first to go – there’s already been a clearing, so to speak, in the middle of the store.

Trees local to Ontario include blue and white spruce, white and Scotch pines, as well as Fraser and balsam firs according to Christmas Tree Farmers of Ontario.

So what does a prize tree look like? For retailers like MacLeod-Biglow a full, fluffy tree is a good tree while weak boughs spell trouble for heavy ornaments and gaps between tiers of branches won’t do for minimalist decorators.

“Straight: we want to see a nice straight trunk, it’ll make it easier for the customer. A premium [tree] will have a good all-around colour. It’s normal to have some needles drop but if there’s a mass exodus of needles that’s bad, and it should take up water, a good amount of water every day,” she said.

It’s a hard concept to face with the holidays still on the way, but when all of the hullaballoo is done and the trees have done their duty, what happens to them?

“The region does take them away and uses them for mulch. I think for most homeowners this will be the best way, that’s probably the best use of the product,” she said, noting some people opt to buy trees in pots, planting them outdoors when the festive season is done.

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