Yes, live Christmas trees are fine. Yes, you must recycle them.

It is time for Christmas trees.

There was a long period when having a live Christmas tree was a big no-no, for reasons I can no longer remember. First, folks got upset about people buying trees instead of cutting their own. Then there was the controversy about people getting their own instead of cutting one.

Actually, I think it had more to do with the disposal of the tree than anything else. There are a staggering 25 million to 30 million trees purchased every year in the U.S. Burning them in the chimney creates creosote problems. Landfill space is scarce and expensive.

A live tree can stay in the house for about four weeks at most, then spend the next four centuries in the landfill. This is not a sustainable practice when you consider the number of trees involved.

Cutting your own tree is out of fashion. Again, it’s not such a good idea for all manner of reasons, from the obvious damage to public lands to the fact that grown-in-the-forest trees don’t hold needles as well. I think the idea has dissipated.

Live trees were controversial, so we next lived through the artificial tree wave. This was supposed to be the solution to the pollution caused by live trees.

The artificial trees looked like real ones, sort of, but they didn’t smell the same. Oops, it turns out artificial trees get tossed into the landfill too. And this apparently happens after only six years. Live trees a problem in landfills? Plastic ones last a really, really long time. And they are made of plastics.


Anyhow, for years, the annual appearance of live Christmas trees sparked controversy. I think things have settled down (haven’t they?). Oh sure, you will undoubtedly see lots and lots of those anti-live-tree articles because the internet news outlets need material.

Fortunately, here in the Anchorage area, at least, we have ALPAR -- Alaskans for Litter Prevention and Recycling. This group works with ADN, Westrock and others to sponsor what is perhaps the oldest but surely the country’s best Christmas tree recycling program. Problem solved. Alaskans, go ahead and buy a live tree guilt-free.

There is a small non-economic price to pay for this ease of mind. There are the rules, both for keeping safe and for recycling the tree. These are dependent on you starting out right. If you do, you will save yourself and ALPAR time.

Incidentally, and totally as an inexcusable aside, the annual ALPAR/Alaska Botanical Garden plastic pot recycling effort resulted in an unbelievable 3.5 tons of plastic garden pots, cell packs and nursery trays being collected. If as many participate in recycling Christmas trees, we are going to have some fine, fine material for all our trails and paths and wherever the chipped material can do some good.

So, here are the rules. First, these trees are cut early and need water. Discuss how the tree was kept with the business from which you are buying your tree. Perhaps it needs a fresh cut as it was cut so long ago the xylem tubes have clogged. Perhaps it has already been sprayed with an anti-drying agent and you don’t need to do it yourself.

In any case, during the first week, again, as you will hear a million times this season because there is so little other stuff to fill the airwaves and net waves, “your tree will use a gallon or so of water every day.” You need a stand and water from day one.

Finally, what goes on the tree must come off before you take it to the designated Carrs-Safeway recycling lot after Christmas. Perhaps you don’t need to be so creative now as you will pay later with extra work. And do you really need all that tinsel? It is a real pain for recyclers.

Alaska Garden Calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: Holiday lights every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening through Dec 29.

Anchorage International Film Festival: “The Gardens of Piet Oudolf,” Dec. 5, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. Pre-screening mixer with cash bar and light appetizers by Muse, 5:30-6:30 p.m.; film screening, 6:40-8 p.m.; post-screening dessert and refreshments, 8-8:30 p.m.

Jeff Lowenfels | Alaska gardening and growing

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2022 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He’s authored several books on organic gardening, and his latest book, "Teaming With Bacteria," is available on Amazon. Reach him at