Real vs. Fake – The Great Christmas Tree Debate

By Marilyn A. Busch

In the world’s most important disputes, there are always two distinct sides. Democrat vs. Republican. Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones. Coke vs. Pepsi. Real farm-grown Christmas trees vs. artificial store bought ones.

Over 25 million Christmas trees are purchased in the US each year. Reflecting the fact that many families keep their factory-made trees from year to year, there are only about 12 million artificial trees sold, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.

Many families have compelling reasons for staying true to their choice for what is truly the centerpiece of their holiday celebration. So why choose one over the other? I spoke to some locals about their preferences and soon learned that no matter the preference, the recurring themes of family and tradition ran throughout their stories.

For many people the choice to purchase an artificial tree is purely based on budget. While freshly cut trees range anywhere from $30-50 each Christmas, artificial trees can start under $20. A professor friend of mine is the proud owner of a white two-foot tall mini-tree that she and her husband fell in love with while shopping at CVS. Larger mid-size trees can be found everywhere from Benny’s to Home Depot starting anywhere from $99 and up – but also coming with the promise of a 5- to 10-year lifespan.

Deborah, a busy mother of three children shared that her family has no choice but to buy artificial, asserting, “We have too many allergies for real trees. So it’s fake, all the way. The color varies, but always colored lights and only handmade decorations.” Even as a child herself, the choice was always an artificial tree. She remembers one fondly – even dubbing it the “Charlie Brown” tree. “It was actually a mismatched a top and bottom duct taped together,” she reminisces, “I can’t remember why we couldn’t find the matches, but I remember it was the year my grandparents came to live with us. It was one of the best Christmases ever.”

Parents of babies and small pets are wise to the trick of using non-breakable ornaments or even leaving the bottom ring of the branches undecorated completely. Many find the convenience of a pre-lit tree too tempting to resist and some even go so far as keeping the decorated tree “as is” at the end of the holidays. One friend of mine admitted, “At the end of the season we carry it to the basement and throw a garbage bag over it. The following December we bring it up. No decorating and no un-decorating. It’s great.”

On the other end of the spectrum is local creative designer Marcia Zammarelli of Cranston, known for her collection of seven artificial trees, ranging from 3 feet to 5 feet tall. She has impeccably decorated trees in white, pink, gold, green and one special one that is shaped like a women’s figure complete with a holiday skirt.

Often times it’s not even your immediate family that dictates your choice in the matter. “My mother-in-law owned a bunch of stores in the Midwest and gifted us 6 moving cartons of assorted ornaments,” says MaryBeth (who did not provide a last name), mom of two and owner of four artificial trees. She explains that when she and her husband were first married, “I felt obliged to hang up every single one of those ornaments. Even the ‘Feliz Navidad to Great Grandmother’ ones…hence the need for so many trees.”

On the more traditional “evergreen-only” side of the debate lies the lure of a rustic fall visit to a rural tree farm. With so many different types to pick from at the over 40 farms throughout Rhode Island, a day spent tree hunting as a family can not only net you a beautiful tree, but create a new family tradition.

For those that like to plan ahead, there is always the option of “tagging” a tree around Columbus Day and then having it cut fresh for you to pick up in December. One of the first RI tree farms to offer families an opportunity to choose and tag a Christmas tree was Henry’s Christmas Tree Farm located at 352 Seven Mile Road in Scituate. The family owned farm has been working in one field or another for 56 years, farming vegetables, logging, dairy and poultry. They now focus solely on growing Christmas trees, offering Fraser fir, Douglas fir, white pine and Canaan fir among others. When you stop by, be sure to visit their gift shop and browse the large selection of holiday tree ornaments.

Fraser fir and Douglas fir are traditionally among the most in demand Christmas trees according to local growers. Colorado blue spruce is another favorite among Rhode Islanders since their short needles make it a stable choice for hanging ornaments.

A huge selling point for those considering buying a real tree is that it truly helps to sustain the local environment. In the seven years it takes for a seedling to grow fully, that tree is supporting and sustaining to local wildlife and helping our air quality. Plus? They look and smell just gorgeous.

Hands down one of the most picturesque options for your shopping adventure is a trip to Lockwood Christmas Tree Farm on 129 Austin Avenue, Smithfield ( Saturdays and Sundays at Lockwood are extra special as children can enjoy a visit from Santa, complimentary hot drinks and freshly baked goodies.

Blackbird Farm ( on 660 Douglas Pike, Smithfield is selling a variety of Christmas trees as well as their in demand range of beef, pork, eggs and more. This is your best bet for a true New England farm to table holiday shopping experience.

Still not sure what type of tree you want in your home? The Rhode Island Christmas Tree Growers Association ( has a very informative website chock full of tips on selecting and caring for your tree, a list of their member’s 25 Rhode Island tree farms sorted by location.

And after the tree has fulfilled its holiday duties, many get recycled, made into mulch, trimmed for the greens and even planted in the ground as landscaping. Colorado blue spruce are very popular for those looking to replant the tree for generations to come, as they can reach heights over 100 feet and can live for a mind-boggling 800 years.

My friend Dylan Costa of North Kingstown found out the hard way that keeping a tree alive to plant in ground is a bit trickier than he originally thought.

“When we first moved into our house I thought it would be cool to get a live tree with the root ball so we could plant it as a memory of the first Christmas here.” He went on to imagine doing that each year so the back yard “would be filled with trees of Christmas Past.” What he discovered was that his 8-foot tree with a root ball weighed in at an excess of 300 lbs. “It sat in the garage until April because the ground was frozen…it was a major engineering marvel but ultimately it was planted and survived for many years.”

For those of you looking to make a future impact without the heavy lifting, The Audubon Society of Rhode Island (949-5454) will hold its Annual Christmas Tree Sale to benefit the Smithfield based non-profit on Dec. 3. The event takes place at their Environmental Education Center at 1401 Hope Street in Bristol and also includes such family treats as photos with Santa and free children’s activities.

Here is a list of this area’s best places to find your family’s holiday trees, wreaths and centerpieces, arranged by location:

Petersen Farm, 451 Putnam Pike, Chepachet (401) 949-0824
Shag’s Tree Farm, 221 Farnum Pike, Smithfield
(401) 231-4313
Seven Cedars Farm, 7 John Mowry Road, Smithfield 401) 263-7330
Hersey’s Tree Farm, 243 Tarklin Road, Chepachet
Harmony Hill Nursery, 281 Absalona Hill Road, Chepachet (401) 349-3434
Lee O The Wind, 95 Pound Road, Burrillville
(401) 568-5032
Hickory Tree Farm, 280 Mowry Street, Burrillville
Country View Farm, 744 Colwell Road, Harrisville (401) 568-0853
Borelli Tree Farm, 97 Brown Avenue, Johnston
Pezza Farm, 2279 Plainfield Pike, Johnston
(401) 943-2707
Butterfly Farm, 679 Great Road, Lincoln (401) 723-6188
Mumford Christmas Tree Farm, 141 Betty Pond Road, Scituate (401) 647-3251

If you would like to look further, another wonderful resource is Farm Fresh Rhode Island ( where you can search not only for your local tree growers, but also a wealth of other locally grown produce, meats and seasonal farmer’s markets.