Ethical Christmas trees: Rent or go organic

This year’s eco Christmas buzz is all about renting a tree, but you can also buy organic, direct from a farmer or decorate an existing house plant.

All trees are good…right?

When it comes to Christmas trees, how true that is needs exploring. With choices ranging from pot-grown, rooted, cut or organic, in order to grow this seasonal pleasure we need to ensure other habitats and plants aren’t being destroyed. And then there’s this year’s new trend: rented. Renting might be the next eco trend in fashion, but it’s also the new buzzword in Christmas trees.

Christmas tree
Returning your tree to continue growing can reduce wastage. Image Camerabee/Flickr. 

Rent-a-tree

Gloucestershire company Rental Christmas Trees estimates an average of eight million cut Christmas trees are consumed in the UK every year. In contrast, theirs are pot grown and can then be ordered online for local delivery. Several Christmas tree growers seem to be offering rentals this year – including in Leicestershire, London or Yorkshire.

Renters just need to water their tree daily, enjoy it over the festive season then Christmas, then return it. Always remember that extra lovely tree you had a few years back? With this service you can even give your tree a name and have the exact same one back the following year – just slightly taller.

Sourced well, your tree can be an incredibly positive purchase, offering new ways of creating income for family farms.

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Go organic

Almost as rare as a white Christmas, the UK’s only certified organic Christmas trees are grown by Simon Paddon, a third-generation farmer at Peach Hayne Farm.

“Being small we have looked at opportunities to diversify in order to maintain a viable farming business, and in 2013 decided to grow organic Christmas trees,” he explains. 

Their organic herd of beef cattle need to graze on lush pasture, so trees were planted in the less productive fields. Seven years later in 2020, after a lot of learning, they sold their first few trees online, delivering direct to customers doors.  

“Our journey has involved a lot of trial and error on how to manage weeds to give the trees a fighting chance as well as wildlife – it is amazing how many animals like to eat the tops off Christmas trees,” says Paddon. 

“After our initial experiment with planting the trees directly into the fields, we have found that growing the plants in recyclable pots with organic compost for the first two years before planting out to be the best way to give the trees a good start.

“They are then planted out with degradable coir mats around the bases and spaced out so that we can mow between rows with a small second-hand tractor. The trees are hand trimmed to provide a good shape twice a year and hand weeded around the trunks when needed.”

Organic trees do cost more to grow, with no pesticides or artificial fertilisers they need a lot more manual labour than larger non-organic enterprises. This may mean a pricier tree, but the plus side is more rural jobs and better biodiversity.

Tips for other green Christmas trees this year

Alternative
Explore other plants instead of a traditional fir. 

– Check out local growers for lower ‘tree’ miles, buy organic or direct from a farmer if you can.

– Embrace wonky trees – many trees are not sold by commercial growers due to being ‘wonky’ so if you are at a seller or cut-your-own site, choose a more challenging shape, and get creative. 

– Donate to a tree charity such as moortrees instead of – or as well as – buying your own.

– Going for an artificial tree? Recycling charity WRAP advising that artificial trees need to be used for up to nine Christmases to have a lesser impact on the environment than natural alternatives, depending on the method of disposal.

– Make your own ‘yule branch’ instead of having a tree – a foraged branch either left natural or painted white, decorated with tree ornaments.

– Don’t let your tree go to waste – if it isn’t a live tree that can grow in your garden till next year, many local authorities offer special collections of real Christmas trees in early January to ensure they are recycled correctly.

3 Comments

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  1. Here we go again! The annual destroy a tree festivity! All year we plant trees to save the planet and just as their first winter gets a little tough and they actually get close to doing something for the planet, along come mankind and chops hundreds of them down – ah Yes I hear you say, but it’s only a Christmas Tree! IT IS STILL A TREE no matter how you wrap it up!

    The Walrus! (yes I love humbugs but I love my planet a little more – do you?)

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  2. There may be another alternative near you – as part of efforts to increase biodiversity landowners like RSPB and NT do scrub clearance, e.g. to get heathland back – so at Christmas you may have the option to go and cut your own tree – effectively removing something that volunteers would be doing anyway. They have character and dont drop as mainly Scots pine. I appreciate that scrub can be good – but this is to stop low biodiversity pine forests taking over. We got ours at NT Witley and Milford Commons.

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