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Picking the Right Tree

Options that are eco-friendly

Tonight is Cedar Grove Township's 44th Annual Christmas Tree Lighting. At 7 p.m. in front of the municipal building at 525 Pompton Ave., members of the Cedar Grove High School Choir will sing holiday songs and Santa Claus will be in attendance. The whole affair will culminate in the lighting of the town tree.

'Tis the season for Christmas tree shopping. But which tree is right for your home?

There are potted trees, artificial trees and cut trees. Each type has its benefits and disadvantages, and certain trees can be better than others depending on the situation.

Potted or bulb trees are real pine trees, usually bought from a tree farm. These farms create plenty of oxygen, and for every grown tree dug up or cut, two or three seedlings are usually planted in their place. Pine trees are tough, and they can often be planted in soil that couldn't support other kinds of plants.

Potted trees are grown to a certain height and then dug out of the ground and sold, roots and all. The roots are tied up in a burlap sack. Bring one home, plop it in a pot or large bucket, and water it occasionally.

Real pine trees smell great and look wonderful. When a healthy one is picked, its branches will be plentiful and thickly covered in pine needles. Potted tree branches also tend to grow outward, so they take up a good deal of space. A family with their own home would have enough space for a potted tree. And when the holidays are over, there's a pine tree ready to be planted in the yard. Logging does kill many trees, but if homeowners plant a tree on their lawn, it will be protected from harm and produce fresh oxygen as long as it lives. And there are some places that adopt trees to populate parks or private lands.

If these trees are not taken care of when they are inside the home, however, they will begin to lose needles. It's no fun stepping on sharp pine needles on Christmas morning! And since they are larger, getting one successfully to a third floor walk-up apartment might be tough.

Artificial trees have staying power. Made of plastics and other non-recyclable materials, they come in pieces and their branches fold out. They come in different sizes, but are generally smaller and less full than real trees. They are light, portable, and require no real maintenance other than fluffing out the fake pine needles after unpacking.

These trees are more or less a one-time investment. They last for decades, and some families even pass them down from generation to generation. When the holidays are over, they are easily packed up in a closet or attic. The "needles" don't really fall out, and the shape of the artificial tree is consistent throughout, unlike real trees, which can be asymmetrical. And the branches are usually bendable, making hanging ornaments easier. Artificial trees are great for apartments and small homes.

However, artificials don't look as good as real trees. Even with fluffing, there are often gaps between branches that are not especially flattering. And if a fake tree is thrown out, it will go straight into a landfill.

Cut trees are real pine trees, but they are cut down at the trunk. Cut trees have the great smell and thick, beautiful branches of a bulb tree. They require no maintenance and are the tree of choice for homes with little or no yard space.

But as soon as they are bought they begin to die, so by the time the season is over, needles will be scattered on the living room rug.

The main difference between bulb and cut trees is in the disposal. Cut trees look broken and pathetic when sitting on the curb. But they don't have to go the landfill where they would take up valuable space.

If a cut tree is the tree for you, it's still possible to be friendly to the environment. You can recycle your tree. Recycling centers can do many things with cut trees. They can be ground into mulch, which can be used in private and public gardens, in animal stalls and for trails in parks and playgrounds. Old Christmas trees can be used as barriers for sand and erosion along beaches, lakes and streams. They also become protective habitats for fish.

It's easier than ever to be environmentally conscious on Christmas. When decorating your tree, hand-me down lights and ornaments are best. If you must buy lights, try LED Christmas lights. They use less energy, so they cost less money to run, and they create one-tenth the CO2 of incandescent lights.

No matter what kind of tree is right for you, it can be right for the environment, too.

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