It’s better for the environment, not to mention your wallet, to skip buying a Christmas tree altogether. Instead, many families decorate a house plant or make Christmas displays out of wind fallen branches. But if it’s an important part of your family tradition, which is better — a natural or artificial tree?

The David Suzuki Foundation conducted an analysis of the environmental impacts of an artificial Christmas tree versus a natural one. Their conclusion was that, considering their whole life cycle, the natural tree is the better choice. Artificial trees rely on non-renewable resources and may contain toxic chemicals. The Manitoba Christmas Tree Growers Association (MCTGA) claims positive environmental benefits to real Christmas trees including providing habitat for wildlife, sequestering carbon and also notes that Christmas trees are biodegradable and compostable. Manitoba Christmas trees also support the local economy and do not require burning fuel for long distance shipping or storage.

Currently, there are no organically certified Christmas tree farms in Manitoba, and most use some forms of pesticides for weed control. According to the MCTGA, some use less pesticides than others. It is worth asking your farmer about their practices, and choosing one that minimizes pesticides use. Another consideration involves what species of tree to use. Native species like white or black spruce or balsam fir are more adapted to our local environment and require less pesticides and maintenance. Scotch pines, one of the most popular trees, are not native to Manitoba and require adding a colorant to keep them green through our harsh autumns.

Unfortunately, because of our climate, it is not possible to keep a live tree and transplant it outside after the holidays. Trees require a dormant period and the shift from indoor to outdoor temperatures will kill your tree. Possibly the most environmentally friendly way for you to have a Christmas tree is to cut down your own! The Province of Manitoba Forestry Branch manages our forests and have designated areas that are cut as a way to minimize forest fires. For $5, your family can spend some time in nature looking for the perfect tree! No pesticides were used to grow it and it’s benefiting the forest in the long run. Check out their Christmas Tree cutting permit page for more info (you need a permit!).

And after the holidays, where possible, you can take your tree to be recycled. Each year, the City of Winnipeg runs Let’s Chip In depots.