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Growing Together: Making the choice between real and artificial Christmas trees

Flocked trees have the appearance of freshly fallen snow like this collection from Baker Garden & Gift in Fargo. David Samson / Forum News Service

FARGO -- There's a Christmas tree battle raging, and we're all in the thick of it.

No, it’s not the neighborhood couple who required therapy after putting up their Scotch pine. Nor does it involve tempers flaring while locating the needle-in-a-haystack loose bulb that made the whole string of lights go out.

A raging battle is an exaggeration, but a marketing war is indeed being fought nationally between organizations representing growers of real Christmas trees and manufacturers of artificial trees. More than $2 million will be spent this year wooing us to choose their particular products through national advertising campaigns.

And there are lots of us to woo. Three-fourths of America’s households display a Christmas tree. Although current figures show 80 percent of these households opt for artificial, more than 21 million real trees are sold annually, and that’s a lot of fresh trees. The group most targeted by Christmas tree marketers are the millennials experiencing their first marriage, first kids, first home and first tree as a family.

The choice of tree types made at that point often becomes their tradition for decades. People have good reasons for deciding between real and artificial trees. Do you know the most frequent reason given for selecting an artificial tree? Not having to deal with cleanup of needles is why most people in a recent survey chose artificial.

Artificial trees are often more economical, since they’re reused an average of nine to 11 Christmases. Many types are pre-lit, making decorating easy. Higher quality artificial trees even look real.

Why do people choose a real Christmas tree? The most commonly given answer is the wonderful, heady fragrance of a fresh fir found only with the real thing. Selecting a yearly tree can be a fun family tradition that is absent with artificial. Those who enjoy real trees consider needle cleanup a small trade-off for the sight, smell and touch of a fresh tree.

Real trees are the genuine deal. People who enjoy the great outdoors often find real Christmas trees more satisfying.

Eric Baker, with Baker Garden & Gift in Fargo, says the first thing customers mention when entering the garden center’s fresh Christmas tree sales area is the delightful aroma of real evergreens. That desire for high fragrance has made Fraser fir the most popular tree that Baker sells, echoing the national trend. The short-needled branches of Fraser fir are ideal for decorating, and trees stay remarkably fresh when kept well-watered and away from heat drafts.

Baker notes that a portion of their tree sales are to people who are returning to real trees after having an artificial tree for a number of years. Older customers sometimes buy real trees as a nostalgic trip back to the trees they found fascinating when younger. The sense of smell has a long memory.

Baker Garden & Gift is also one of the remaining producers of flocked Christmas trees. Snowy-white flocking is applied to fresh trees, making them as pretty as a frosty morning. Sold ready-to-go on a wooden stand, there’s no need for water, as the flocking seals moisture for season-long freshness. Needle drop is almost non-existent, making flocked trees a compromise of sorts between real and artificial.

Get a calendar

Looking for gift ideas? Consider the 2019 Growing Together Gardening Calendar, a 12-month wall calendar graced with local gardening photos by Forum photographers and filled with nearly every "when-to" needed by gardeners tailored specifically for our Upper Midwest gardening region of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Montana. Order calendars online at https://www.inforum.com/2019gardencalendar.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler’s Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether@hotmail.com.

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