I remember the first tree that I had with wifey in our loft in New York City. It was a branch from a Christmas tree trimming that I found being discarded. I mounted it on a piece of 2’x4′ and it totally channeled a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. As the years went by, I started buying small potted pine trees which I would plant at my mom’s house each year.
Being a new homeowner brings decisions that apartment owners rarely have to make. Artificial tree or cut tree? I weighed the pros and cons of each – including looks, size, convenience, fire retardentness (is that a word?) of a plastic tree vs. a dying cut one. Ultimately, having a fair amount of land, I decided on buying a LIVE tree. I put live in allcaps because this is to distinguish it from a live cut tree. I wanted to buy a tree along with the roots in a root ball, much like you would buy a landscape tree. This way, after the holiday season, I would plant it on my property. Only this was not as easy as you would think
The town I live in has 8,000 residents, and about a dozen Christmas tree farms. In fact, it is impossible to drive through my town without encountering at least one tree farm – sort of trying to walk two city blocks without running into a Starbucks. With as many tree farms and landscaping nurseries as their are in my area, it was nearly impossible to find a farm that sold Christmas trees with a rootball that I could plant. Most of the tree farms get their trees either imported (from the mid-west or Canada) or locally on tree farms. It is easy to cut a tree, and difficult to dig out the roots, and therefore, these farms figure that best bang for your buck is a cut tree.
Downsides to a Live Tree vs. a Cut Tree
- Finding a live tree is not as easy as I would have thought. Your best bet is to contact a nursery in September to pre-order one. This has a lot of advantages including that you give the nursery enough time and you have a tree with your name on it. No selection, but no worries that you will not have a tree. If you are lucky, the nursery will deliver it to you (but probably at another cost).
- Cost. Expect to pay up 50% more for a live tree vs. a cut tree. A 6′ cut tree costs about $80 bucks. A live tree costs about $120.
- Live trees are shorter than live trees – that is, the root ball is about 2′ in height. So if you are buying a 6′ cut tree vs a 6′ live tree, the cut tree will be older and bigger. A 6′ live tree is only 4′ of tree.
- Weight. An 8′ cut tree weighs 50 lbs at the most. A 8′ live tree with root ball weighs ~300 lbs. This means that you will need a vehicle to transport it.
- Moving a cut tree to different locations is relatively easy. Mind you, I know this is not common practice after stringing the lights and placing the ornaments. Because of the weight of the live tree, you will only want to place it once.
- Time. A cut tree can last a long time. Once you cut a tree, it is in the process of dying. I remember living in NYC, seeing trees in the trash bin as late as March! I am always surprised at how the trees look. I mean the tree is dead, and needles fall off easily, but it is still green, which is why I guess the owners never saw to it to take it down immediately after the holidays. A live tree can only stay in a warm environment for 10 days at the max. Experts differ on how long a tree can stay indoors. One nursery told me 48 hours max, and others told me up to ten days. In fact many of the nurseries in my area stopped selling trees for this reason. – most homeowners would take home a live tree, and leave it in their home for too long, and when they planted it, it eventually died. That is a ton of work and money to have a dead tree at the conclusion. I decided to keep the tree indoors for one week. This meant keeping the tree outdoors until very close to Christmas, and then moving the tree back outside immediately after New Years.
- Work. Moving and disposing of a live tree is fairly easy. In addition to the amount of work moving a live tree, it also requires a pre-dug hole and the tree needs to be planted.
Upsides of a Live Tree vs. a Cut Tree
- Since the tree is still alive, when moving a live tree, no needles will fall off.
- Live trees always look healthy.
- More environmentally sustainable. Although the exact calculation depends on where both trees are being grown and shipped from, it does seem better to plant a tree that you use rather than simply discarding it. Although most of the nurseries around me claim that for every tree sold, they plant more as replacements. It just seems like a waste of resources to grow to discard.
- You get a tree to plant in your yard. Boom!!! [dropping the mic].
There being so many downsides to upsides, you would think that I would go with a cut tree (or an artificial tree). You would be wrong. The idea that sold wifey on a live tree, was if we did this every year, we would have a tree for every Christmas that we were in this house. This reminded me of advice that a mentor gave to me – when in doubt, argue the romantic reasons if you want to win an argument with a woman.
So if you want to give a gift to the world during the holiday season, buy a live tree. I understand that there are some business models out there where they deliver a live tree to you and remove it at the end of the season. However, this business is an extremely local one because delivery is involved. If you want to buy a live tree and have no place to plant it, let me know, and I’ll plant it for you here.