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Choosing a Christmas tree: Will it be real or artificial?

Many holiday purists dismiss fake Christmas trees. Pragmatists tally the time and energy spent growing and buying a real tree and tending it indoors and see advantages in the artificial. While environmental concerns weigh in favor of real trees and artificial trees cost less over time, it may be most helpful to think of your tree choice as a question of style. Here are some ways to compare. Associated Press

Pricing the tree: A real tree can cost less than $10 but typically runs closer to $100 or more, depending on size and species. Artificial trees generally sell for $25 to about $400 but can hit $2,000, depending on size and features, such as lighting and stands. A fake tree is likely to be cheaper once you spread the cost over the typical five- to 10-year lifespan.

The hassle factor: Real trees can bring real headaches — you have to water properly, and dropped needles can keep surfacing for months. In contrast, an artificial tree will be just as pretty on Twelfth Night as it was the day you put it up. Still, fake trees must be assembled before use and then dismantled and stored in the off season, and you'll need space for that.

The environmental argument: Most real Christmas trees are reused; close to 5,000 private and municipal programs across the country grind holiday trees into mulch or landscaping chips, according to Rick Dungey of the National Christmas Tree Association. Most of the land used for tree farming is ill-suited to other crops, while farmed trees absorb similar amounts of carbon dioxide as natural trees while they're growing. The NCTA says worries about chemicals that growers spray on trees is misplaced because the use of chemicals is regulated — and limited.

As for fake trees, those still in good condition can be donated or resold with minimal additional costs. But once a fake tree starts disintegrating, it's no longer safe or pleasing. Few, if any, recycling programs accept them so they often end up in landfills. And, despite the promise of recycled plastic, many fake trees sold in the United States are made abroad with no recycled content; others are made from recycled packaging material.

The stand, the skirt and the lights: Here's where artificial trees come out way ahead. They require much less additional spending because they include a stand and can be purchased with lights already attached.

Real trees, on the other hand, require a stand ($15 to $90), a skirt to hide the stand (another $10 to $50) and three or more strings of lights at $2 to $20 each for incandescents, depending on color, shape and volume. LED — or light-emitting diode — lights cost more but can last five times longer.

Choosing a Christmas tree: Will it be real or artificial? 12/08/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 8, 2009 3:30am]
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