Going Green: The Pesticide-Free Christmas Tree Movement

Understanding No-Spray Christmas Trees Are They the Best Choice for You?

Are No-Spray Christmas Trees Healthier? Dive In!

Dec. 8, 2023 – Michelle Pridgen sometimes finds tiny black bugs called aphids in her Christmas tree, and usually a bird’s nest as well. But she doesn’t let that dampen her spirits. In fact, she cheerfully incorporates the nest into her festive decorations. Talk about finding creative ways to deck the halls!

Michelle, the manager of the farmers market in Independence, VA, knows the value of pesticide-free Christmas trees. Since 2012, the market has been offering these environmentally-friendly trees for pre-order, and Michelle always gets one for herself. The decision to go pesticide-free was a happy accident when a local farm accidentally skipped spraying a stand of trees. Since then, the farm has transitioned away from pesticides, using diluted herbicides only when necessary to control weeds.

According to Michelle, the demand for pesticide-free trees is fueled by an environmentally-conscious community. While many vendors at the market may not be certified organic, they grow their trees using organic practices. It seems how things are grown really does matter to the customers of Independence farmers market.

But are there really that many chemicals used in traditional Christmas tree cultivation? Surprisingly, experts say that traditionally cultivated trees are typically exposed to the same or even fewer chemicals than the food we eat. Despite this, the allure of the “pesticide-free” and “no-spray” labels has attracted many Christmas tree buyers.

One farm in southern Virginia has seen a surge in popularity for their “eco-friendly” trees. Reed Island Christmas Tree Farm offers no-spray trees to customers who are willing to brave the winding mountain roads and chop down their own tree. The demand is so high that sometimes they sell out within the first week of December. Looks like these trees are a hit!

The owners of Reed Island, Billy Cornette Jr. and Betty Vornbrock, are not just tree farmers. They’re also a dynamic duo of semi-professional musicians who specialize in old-time music. They even traveled to collect cones from the few places in the U.S. where Frasier firs grow naturally, bringing back seeds to start their own seedlings. Talk about dedication!

Billy and Betty didn’t always grow their trees without pesticides. In the beginning, they followed traditional practices like spraying the trees to manage pests and weeds. However, they realized the potential harm to their animals, the creek, and the environment as a whole, so they made the bold decision to go completely no-spray. Now, their farm stands as a testament to the beauty of nature, with its diverse, tree-filled hillside.

But what about the health risks of Christmas trees? According to Dr. Timothy Craig from Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, the biggest risk is mold. Mold-induced allergies can be dangerous for people with asthma. Dr. Craig himself had a personal experience with his son ending up in the pediatric ICU due to asthma triggered by mold on a Christmas tree.

While mold allergies can be detected through testing, there are many types of outdoor molds that testing may not cover. The most common way people discover their allergy to mold on Christmas trees is by experiencing symptoms like a runny nose, itchy eyes, and nasal congestion. For those with asthma, more severe symptoms around the tree could necessitate its removal, with an artificial tree as a safer alternative.

Other factors that can contribute to symptoms during the holiday season include respiratory viruses, dust, and mold buildup on decorations. It’s easy to overlook these culprits when everyone seems to be getting sick. But if symptoms lean more towards sneezing and itchiness rather than feeling ill and coughing, chances are it’s an allergic reaction rather than a virus.

To combat mold, Dr. Craig suggests cleaning decorations to eliminate allergens. While glass decorations won’t get moldy, decorations made from other materials can be at risk. A gentle wash with diluted bleach can help destroy bacteria and fungi without damaging the colors. It’s important to ensure the decorations are dry to prevent the growth of different kinds of mold.

So, are the chemicals used in growing Christmas trees a cause for concern? Not really, according to Jamie Bookwalter, PhD, a mountain conifer integrated pest management specialist. The insecticides and herbicides used on Christmas tree farms are registered for use in the food we consume, and their application is significantly less frequent compared to other crops. In fact, the pesticides used nowadays are more environmentally and consumer-friendly than those used decades ago.

While some Christmas tree farmers have embraced the pesticide-free movement, traditional growers are also reducing their chemical use. The latest survey of top growers in North Carolina showed a 21% decline in pesticide use. Farmers increasingly adopt integrated pest management practices, which involve scouting fields to determine if pesticide applications are necessary. It’s clear that farmers care deeply about the land and their customers’ well-being.

But what about the future of Christmas trees? Scientists, like Justin G.A. Whitehill from North Carolina State University, are working on genetically engineering Christmas trees to be more disease and pest resistant. They understand that the threats of pests and climate change are putting these beloved trees at risk. Firs, in particular, are susceptible to small climate changes, which can spread diseases and cause stress to the trees. Preservation, conservation, and promotion of these magnificent conifers drive their work.

In conclusion, choosing a Christmas tree is an opportunity to celebrate the beauty of nature and make environmentally-conscious choices. Whether you opt for a pesticide-free tree, a traditionally cultivated one, or an artificial alternative, be mindful of the potential risks and take adequate measures to ensure a festive and safe holiday season.

What kind of Christmas tree do you prefer? Are you dedicated to going pesticide-free, or do you have any creative ideas for incorporating nests or other surprises into your decorations? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below!