Community Agriculture Alliance: An earth-friendly holiday tradition |

Community Agriculture Alliance: An earth-friendly holiday tradition

The holidays are upon us, and for many, that comes with the age-old tradition of putting up a tree. One of my favorite family traditions is going with my wife and kids on a nice day or moonlit night and scouring the hillsides for a perfect tree, always excited to have the smell of evergreen once again filling our home.

If you’re going to buy a live tree from a local vendor, you have a lot of options to choose from, with size, species and price all being considerations. These trees, typically grown on family-owned tree plantations around the country, are part of a sustainable, green industry.

When you go to a tree retailer, make sure to choose a fresh tree. A fresh tree will have a healthy green appearance with few browning needles. Needles should be flexible and not fall off if you run a branch through your hand. Raise the tree a few inches off the ground and drop it on the butt end. Very few green needles should drop off the tree. It is normal for a few inner brown needles to drop off.

If you don’t want to buy a tree at a lot, you might consider going out and cutting your own tree like my family does. The U.S. Forest Service sells permits for $10 per tree, and a family can purchase up to five permits. Likewise, the Bureau of Land Management typically sells permits for between $6-$10 per tree depending on location, and may allow you to cut up to 3 trees. Permits from either agency can be purchased at your local district office. 

Note that certain areas of the forest are off-limits for cutting trees including many recreation areas, within 100 feet of roadways, and all wilderness areas. When you get your permit, make sure to discuss with your local office what the rules are for your area. Also, remember that private property is just that: private! Don’t enter private land unless you have explicit permission to do so, even if the perfect tree is within sight.

Cutting the tree is easiest as a two person project. The “cutter downer” usually lies on the ground while the helper holds the bottom limbs up. While the cut is being made, the helper should tug on the side of the tree opposite the cut to ensure that the saw kerf remains open, keeping the saw from binding.

Regardless of whether you are cutting on public or private land, try to choose trees that are in a clump and not single trees in the open to help with forest management objectives. Don’t “top” trees, avoid cutting trees over 20 feet tall and make sure to cut within 6 inches of the ground so the resulting stump doesn’t create a hazard.

Before the tree comes inside, cut 1.5 inches off the bottom of the tree and immediately plunge it into a bucket of water. Otherwise, sap will seal the bottom of the tree and keep water from entering. Have your tree stand ready, and work quickly so you can get water back in it right away. Trees take about 1 quart of water for every inch of diameter of the trunk, so be prepared to water the tree several times each day. Remember that if it goes dry, the sap can reseal the trunk. Also, to help keep the tree fresh, keep it away from heat sources and out of direct sunlight.

When the holidays are over, give your community and the environment a holiday gift by recycling your tree. You can mulch it for use in your own yard or contribute it to a community-wide chipping program, enabling you to enter the New Year with a clear conscience that you’re helping the environment and completing the life cycle of the tree.

Todd Hagenbuch is the director and agriculture agent for the Routt County Colorado State University Extension.

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