Got Nature? Blog

Christmas tree.The DNR shares the best way to discard Christmas trees: taking them to a local recycling site, putting it in your backyard to provide winter shelter for birds and other wildlife or chopping it up for firewood. DNR states that Hoosiers need to think twice before they toss their Christmas tree into a nearby lake or pond. View RTV6 ABC Indy Channel for more information.

Got Nature? Christmas Tree posts
Christmas Tree Selection, Indiana Department of Natural Resources (INDNR)
The Education Store, Purdue Extension publications (Search “Christmas tree”)

Indiana Department of Natural Resources (INDNR)

Posted on December 31st, 2014 in Christmas Trees, Wildlife | No Comments »

This question and answer were provided by Purdue Extension: In the Grow.

Question: I have small evergreen trees planted in my yard. They are the small, slow-growing type. They are around eight years old. Every fall, the yellow jackets start swarming around them, crawling in and out of the inside of the tree. They don’t seem to hurt it, but it looks like they are trying to find something, acting like a honey bee on a flower. But these have no flowers. They don’t bother us as long as we don’t get too close. Could you tell me why this is happening? – C.K., Shoals, Indiana

Answer: Our Purdue entomologists advise that yellow jackets commonly scavenge for food in the fall, and it is likely they are attracted to tree resin or sap that has some sugar content. Scavenging yellow jackets are less aggressive than those that are protecting a nest. And you are correct; they will not harm the trees and will generally not attack unless provoked. We commend you for aiming for a peaceful coexistence!

View the full post at Purdue Extension’s: In the Grow website.

Social Bees and Wasps, The Education Store
Indiana Beekeepers Swarm List, Indiana DNR
Department of Entomology, Purdue University

Purdue Extension: In the Grow

Posted on December 22nd, 2014 in Christmas Trees | No Comments »

Daniel CassensIt was thought that the Christmas trees this season wouldn’t look as luscious and green as they usually do because of the drought in 2012. Yet with the rain and cooler weather, the strongest trees prevailed and grew beautifully. There are different trees that one could put up in their home, but the best are fir trees and Scotch pine because they last the longest.

Dan Cassens, Professor of Wood Products, owns a tree farm in West Lafayette, Indiana. He offers a few tips to people who will be using a real Christmas tree in their home.

  • Size of the room, size of the tree: Cassens said that buying a tree that is too tall for a room can be wasteful because you will end up trimming the tree to make it fit, thereby spending more on the tree than what was necessary.
  • Selecting a species: Once the right size of the tree has been determined, decide which species you want.
  • Straightness of tree trunk: Fir trees are typically a straight-growing tree. Scotch pines tend to have some crooks in them.
  • Freshness of tree: Insects or mechanical problems can cause yellowness. If a tree has any yellow spots, it is best to avoid them unless they are in a place that could be cut out.
  • Base of tree: It is best to have a clean 6-8 inches to put into the handle of the tree stand. This will prevent having to cut any limbs that would leave bare spots in the base of the tree.

View the full article at the Purdue Ag News page.

Christmas Tree Posts, Got Nature?
National Christmas Tree Association
Tips for First-Time Buyers of Real Christmas Trees, The Education Store

​Dan Cassens, Professor of Wood Products
Department of Forestry and Natural Resources


Posted on December 10th, 2014 in Christmas Trees | No Comments »

​Members of the Indiana Christmas Tree Growers Association (ICTGA) are busy grooming your real Christmas tree for the 2010 season and beyond. Real tree consumers will be ready to purchase when late November and December come around, but few know that June through August are the busiest and most difficult months for the growers. Trees, weeds and insect and disease pests are all thriving in the warm Indiana weather, thus requiring constant attention if quality trees are to be produced.

All quality Indiana Fresh Brand Christmas Trees require some form of pruning or shearing, as the growers call it. The amount and time of shearing is dependent on the tree species. This process helps to determine whether the tree will be tall and narrow or shorter and wider at the bottom. The amount of shearing will also determine how full the tree is. One Indiana grower explains that they shear to produce trees full enough that you cannot see the trunk but not so full or dense that the ornaments slide off. Trees from different growers can take on a different appearance due to shearing techniques.Sheering a Christmas Tree

Scotch pine, the most common Indiana grown Christmas tree, is usually sheared beginning around mid-June. White pine is similar to Scotch pine, but it is usually sheared beginning about the first of July. Shearing can continue into August, but enough time must be allowed for the sheared trees to set buds for the following growing season.

A knife about 16 inches long is used to shear the trees. The knife may have a straight edge or be serrated. The grower examines the tree and determines how much of the new foliage should be removed and how long the top or leader should be. While wearing appropriate safety equipment, the grower then cuts around the tree from the top to bottom in full powerful swings.  Up to a foot or even more foliage is removed. Once having completely circled the tree, it is examined, and perhaps some additional grooming is done with hand clippers. It takes about 30 seconds to shear a seven foot tall Scotch pine tree. Some larger growers use mechanical devices that operate like a small vertically mounted rotary lawn mower. Others use a gas-powered sickle bar.

The fir species, which are becoming increasingly popular in Indiana, are usually sheared beginning in the middle of July. They are sheared with a knife as well, but some species require hand pruning, particularly the upper portions.

Even before shearing begins, proper weed control is essential. Many growers use the same pre-emergent herbicides that row-crop producers use. These are applied early in the spring, and as the season continues, post emergent herbicides are applied. Glycophosphate is a popular herbicide, but care must be exercised to prevent it from contacting the trees. These herbicides are used sparingly in bands just where the trees are growing. This minimizes herbicide use and prevents erosion in the untreated and more exposed areas between the rows.

Mowing the untreated area between the rows is also a necessity. Depending on spacing, this is usually done with small utility tractors or just heavy-duty lawn mowers. Depending on rainfall and length of the growing season, the field may need mowing four to six times in a year.

As shearing, mowing and herbicide application continue, the grower must also be on the lookout for numerous insect and disease issues that may develop. Some examples including bagworms, sawflies, spider mites, numerous needle cast diseases and others are all possible. Early detection and identification will result in controlling the pests with limited pesticide use while still producing quality trees.

For more information about Christmas trees or to locate a choose-and-cut tree farm near you, please visit the Indiana Christmas Tree Growers Association website.

ICTGA Contact: Kerry Dull at 1-877-873-3712 or email

Christmas Trees, Got Nature?
Selecting an Indiana-Grown Christmas Tree, The Education Store
Indiana Christmas Tree Growers Association
Growing Christmas Trees, Indiana DNR

​Daniel Cassens, Director of FNR Extension and Professor of Wood Products
Department of Forestry and Natural Resources

Posted on December 1st, 2014 in Christmas Trees, Forestry, How To | No Comments »

​A real Christmas tree is an important part of the holiday celebration for many Hoosier households. Consumers have several choices for purchasing a real tree, including pre-cut trees at retail outlets or seasonal sales locations, choose-and-cut trees at Christmas tree farms or even live trees that can be replanted after the holidays. Purdue Extension offers two publications that can help you select and care for your tree: Tips for First-Time Buyers of Christmas Trees provides advice and direction on how to set up and care for your tree to improve safety and enjoyment. Selecting an Indiana-Grown Christmas Tree provides details on the characteristics of different species of real Christmas trees available in Indiana, as well as care instructions for cut and live Christmas trees.

Pre-cut real Christmas trees are available at many retail outlets like garden centers, supermarkets or seasonal sales locations. If you are looking for local choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms, you can consult local media and advertising outlets or the Indiana Christmas Tree Growers Association. Some garden centers and Christmas tree farms may also offer live trees for sale.

If you are considering growing your own Christmas trees for personal use or sale, the Extension publication, A Choose-and-Cut Pine and Fir Christmas Tree Case Study, outlines economic and management considerations for growing Christmas trees.

Lenny Farlee, Sustaining Hardwood Extension Specialist
Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center
Department of Forestry and Natural Resources

Posted on November 26th, 2014 in Christmas Trees, Forestry, How To | No Comments »

About 200,000 real choose-and-cut Fresh Brand Christmas trees will be sold in Indiana this year. Total sales for the state are probably over twice this amount. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, artificial tree sales are less than half of real tree sales, and interest is declining compared to real trees. About 28 million real trees are sold throughout the United States each year.

According to Daniel Cassens, Professor in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University and member of the National Christmas Tree Association, the season is off to an excellent start. The shorter selling season between Thanksgiving and Christmas is partially responsible.

Many choose-and-cut customers visit farms each year because of pleasant memories from previous years and because it is a family event or tradition. Cassens says many of the same customers have returned again this year, but he also sees two categories of new customers.

The first is young couples or singles who have never had a real tree before. Growers try to spend more time with first-time real tree buyers on how to select, handle, set up and care for a real tree. Purdue University’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources has a publication specifically directed to these individuals (see Resources).

The next category of new customers are those concerned about the environment. Real trees are a product of nature, produce oxygen and sequester carbon as they grow. While in the field, the trees also provide wildlife habitat, and once used, the trees can be mulched and returned to the soil or used to enhance wildlife and fish habitat. In coastal and lake areas, they are used for beach stabilization.

There is still time to visit a real Christmas tree farm. For more information about Christmas trees or to locate a choose-and-cut tree farm near you, please visit the National Christmas Tree Association.

A Choose-and-Cut Pine and Fir Christmas Tree Case Study, The Education Store
Selecting an Indiana-Grown Christmas Tree, The Education Store
Tips for First-Time Buyers of Real Christmas Trees, The Education Store

Daniel Cassens, Professor of Wood Products
Department of Forestry and Natural Resources

Posted on November 17th, 2014 in Christmas Trees, Forestry, How To | No Comments »

The debate over whether the use of a real tree or an artificial tree is better for the environment continues, especially as the holiday season nears. Real tree growers point out that their product is renewable; each species has its own characteristic odor; they consume carbon dioxide and give off oxygen; they can be recycled; they provide wildlife habitat; and they create jobs in rural America. Artificial trees contain non-biodegradable plastics and possible metal toxins such as lead. Most artificial trees are made in China and must be shipped long distances to the United States. On the other hand, the artificial tree industry points out that their product can be reused and thus saves several real trees from being harvested. The industry goes on to claim that their trees do not need fertilizers or pesticides and do not create a mess or hassle. These are just examples of claims being made by two distinctly different industries. Considering the entire production cycle for real and artificial trees, it is difficult to determine which type of tree is best for the environment, based on scientific-based data. Conducting a “Life Cycle Assessment” (LCA) for real and artificial trees would be one approach to answer this question.

Real Christmas trees, like all green plants, consume carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. The carbon dioxide is absorbed through the leaves or needles, combined with sunshine and water to make food and release oxygen. This process is called photosynthesis. The “carbon” is stored in the wood, needles and leaves and constitutes about one-half of the dry weight. If the trees are burned or otherwise decomposed, the “stored” or sequestered carbon is released back into the atmosphere. Other existing or planted trees absorb the carbon, making trees carbon neutral. Some of the carbon is also stored in the soil. Growing trees also require some carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.

Artificial trees use petroleum-based products. Petroleum-based products are ancient stored sources of carbon dioxide, and if burned as in the case of gasoline, they release new carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Transportation becomes a significant source of carbon release, regardless of the tree being real or artificial.

Carbon dioxide is important because it traps heat from the earth’s surface. This is often referred to as the “greenhouse effect.” The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been increasing since the late 1800s, and scientific data shows a particularly significant increase since the 1960s. “Global warming” is the term being used to describe an increase in the world’s average surface temperature as a result of more heat being trapped.

“Cradle to Grave” or “Life Cycle Assessments” are used to summarize all the positive and negative activities associated with developing a product and delivering it to the consumer. LCAs become complicated and costly, and the results are dependent on exactly which set or sets of circumstances are considered. Only one documented study on real and artificial trees is available. A Canadian Environmental consulting firm, Ellipsos, has completed an LCA for both real and artificial trees (Ellipsos/Strategists in Sustainable Development).

In this study, the carbon balance for an individual seven foot tall real Christmas tree was about +24 kg (53 lbs.) of carbon dioxide after all factors, such as labor, use of machinery, transportation and other inputs, are considered. The tree was grown south of Montreal, Canada. It was assumed that the tree was grown in the nursery for four years and in the field for 11 years. In Indiana, two-year-old nursery stock and about seven years in the field to produce a seven foot tree are more typical and would probably result in less carbon being released. The “+” indicates that the overall process of growing a tree is carbon positive (i.e., carbon is released).

The carbon balance for a similar six foot artificial tree was about +48 kg (106 lbs.) of carbon dioxide or twice that of the real tree. Most of the positive carbon release in this case is due to the manufacturing of the tree and transportation of the tree by boat from China to Vancouver and then by train to Montreal, Canada.

For comparison purposes, the average American car emits about 1.5 tons or 3,000 pounds of carbon into the atmosphere on a yearly basis (Green Car Congress).

The Ellipsos report assumed that the real tree would be burned for fuel at the end of the life cycle, thus releasing all the stored carbon in the tree. If the real tree is recycled for mulch or fish habitat or other uses, the carbon budget would be closer to zero, at least until the tree finally decomposes. The study goes on to conclude that considering climate change impact along with environmental and public health impact, real trees appear to be a better choice for a responsible customer, and that artificial trees must be displayed for more than 20 years in order for it to compare favorably with the real Christmas tree.

The assessment method used for the life cycle analysis groups the problems into four damage-oriented impact areas on the environment. These are 1) climate change, 2) human health, 3) ecosystem quality and 4) resource depletion. The results for the Ellipsos report are interesting. Considering climate change, the real tree has much less impact due to a smaller amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere as discussed above. The LCA also considers the product’s impact on human health, ecosystem quality and resource depletion. Considering human health, the artificial tree is a slightly better choice than the real tree. Considering ecosystem quality, the artificial tree is a better choice. This is likely due to the use of land for plantations and associated cultural practices (fertilizer, pesticide, irrigation) for real trees. In regards to both climate change (global warming) and resource depletion (use of non-renewable energy and mineral extraction), the real tree is a better choice than the artificial tree. The Ellipsos report titled “Comparative Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of Artificial vs. Natural Christmas Trees” can be viewed by Googling “Ellipsos report 1043-RF3-09.”

Both real and artificial trees have positive and negative attributes. Based on this study, the real tree has less effect on global warming than the artificial tree (i.e., less carbon is released). The amount of carbon released by either the real or artificial tree is relatively small compared to that released by the average car over the course of the year. To reduce carbon production, consumers might be better advised to limit (plan ahead) the use of the car over the holiday season.

For more information about Christmas trees or to locate a choose-and-cut tree farm near you, please visit the National Christmas Tree Association.

A Choose-and-Cut Pine and Fir Christmas Tree Case Study, The Education Store
Selecting an Indiana-Grown Christmas Tree, The Education Store
Tips for First-Time Buyers of Real Christmas Trees, The Education Store

Daniel Cassens, Professor of Wood Products
Department of Forestry and Natural Resources

Posted on November 10th, 2014 in Christmas Trees, Forestry, How To | No Comments »

Real Christmas tree growers anticipate a busy 2014 sales season, especially with the public’s interest in purchasing environmentally-friendly products. Real Christmas trees are renewable, recyclable, release less carbon than artificial trees and provide valuable family memories, according to Daniel Cassens, Professor in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University and member of the National Christmas Tree Association.

The total sales season is only about four weeks long, running from the day after Thanksgiving to just before Christmas. In the United States, over $1 billion in real trees will be sold. The vast majority of trees are sold Thanksgiving weekend and the first two weeks of December. Given that weather can also play a major role, producers make preparations for the sales season well ahead of time.

Christmas trees are available from three distinct types of sources in Indiana. Choose-and-Cut operations are usually the best option if the customer is looking for a locally produced tree. At these locations, the family walks or rides together out into the field to select their choice from hundreds of trees, creating memories and a family experience which will last a lifetime. The tree is brought back to the sales barn. Many locations will shake out any loose needles from previous years and wrap the tree for easy handling and to prevent breakage. Or many growers cut trees just as needed and place them in a sales barn for the customer to select from. This option is particularly popular when the weather becomes inclement.

Choose-and-Cut growers are now busy grooming the fields to make walking and tree selection easier, grading and pricing trees and preparing the sales barn for efficient operations. Many farms will also have a gift shop which needs stocking. Wreath and garland making from Indiana-produced greens starts just as the first customers arrive.

Retail lots are another common method of selling Christmas trees. Many year-round retail merchants will order and sell Christmas trees during the holiday season. Some retail lots are set up just for the holiday season. Many of these lots are fundraisers for nonprofit groups such as the Boy Scouts, Optimist Club, Kiwanis Club and others. Some growers will also establish retail lots at locations other than where the trees are grown. The trees may be produced in Indiana or brought in from other states. Bringing trees from other states can allow the lot to offer a wider variety of species.

Large growers normally wholesale trees to retail lots and even other growers. Wholesale growers are normally large, efficiently run operations capable of selling thousands of trees. The trees are graded in the field and harvested in November just in time for delivery or pickup at Thanksgiving time. Some large customers will schedule a second purchase during the first week of December. This helps to ensure tree freshness.

This year, create family memories by purchasing a real tree. Make plans now on when and how you will obtain your real Indiana-grown Christmas tree this year.

For more information about Christmas trees or to locate a choose-and-cut tree farm near you, please visit the National Christmas Tree Association.

A Choose-and-Cut Pine and Fir Christmas Tree Case Study, The Education Store
Selecting an Indiana-Grown Christmas Tree, The Education Store
Tips for First-Time Buyers of Real Christmas Trees, The Education Store

Daniel Cassens, Professor of Wood Products
Department of Forestry and Natural Resources

Posted on August 4th, 2014 in Christmas Trees, Forestry | No Comments »

​The 60-foot blue spruce that has served many years as the Christmas tree for Greenwood, Indiana, will not make it to the holiday season. Purdue experts Lindsey Purcell, Urban Forestry Specialist; Tom Cresswell, director of Purdue Plant and Pest Diagnostic Laboratory; and Sarah Hanson, Johnson County Purdue Extension educator, share how the past drought season and construction has been too much for the large evergreen.

See full article in the IndyStar, Experts: Construction Killing Greenwood Christmas Tree.

Purdue Plant and Pest Diagnostic Laboratory
Construction and Trees: Guidelines for Protection, The Education Store
Why Is My Tree Dying? The Education Store

If you are looking for that perfect Christmas tree in Indiana or would like to learn more about different tree species, check out these FNR Extension Publications:

Growing Christmas Trees, FNR-118-W
Selecting an Indiana Grown Christmas Tree, FNR-422-W
A Choose-and-Cut Pine and Fir Christmas Tree Case Study, FNR-244-W
Tips for First-Time Buyers of Real Christmas Trees, FNR-423-W

In these publications, you will learn about the fragrance of the tree, the shape of the tree, needle length, expected needle retention, color, branch stiffness and cost. Photos of some of the most popular types of trees are also included.

Got Nature?