Some dreaming of a green Christmas
More buying live trees to plant after holiday

LAWRENCEVILLE - If snow were green, it's possible Bing Crosby would have sang and dreamed about a green Christmas.

But just because snow is white doesn't mean that a green Christmas isn't possible.

As a matter of fact, an environmentally conscious "green" Christmas is a trend that has been growing in popularity over the last five years, said Chris Cipriano, known in the outdoor artistry and horticulture world as the "Picasso of the Outdoors."

According to Cipriano, who owns his own nationally recognized landscape-design company in New Jersey, the trend has actually grown 20 percent annually during that time and has mainly focused around the greenest, most natural place to start in pulling off a green Christmas - with the Christmas tree.

"Living Christmas trees have been around for a number of years," Cipriano said. "Last year, 31.3 million Christmas trees were sold, and the week after New Year's, most are thrown away. That is more than 15,500 acres of lost trees."

Cipriano said the simple solution to this conundrum is to not chop your tree down, but instead to buy it live, with the thought being you can plant it after Christmas in your own yard or even at a local park or nature center.

Steve Cannon, the director of Gwinnett's Environmental and Heritage Center, said he can relate to either concept. He said when his children were younger, they planted one of their live Christmas trees in the yard after the holiday. He said his kids still seek it now when they return home.

"It's like they've taken ownership of it almost," Cannon said. "Unfortunately, using a live tree is not a practice routinely practiced here in the South. But it's a neat idea."

And if you're going to use a live tree or just want to use one but have no place to put it afterward, Cannon said the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center would help.

"We'd be more than happy to accept the tree here and plant it for them," he said.

Looking for a place to purchase that live tree?

For that experience, head to McConnell's Tree Farm off Smithtown Road in Suwanee. There Tom McConnell and his son Thomas grow hundreds of Leyland Cypresses ranging from 5 to 12 feet in height that they transplanted from seedlings.

"I think people generally like the concept of having their Christmas tree grown right here in the county," the elder McConnell said. "It's very convenient. A lot of people would rather get their tree live and fresh here than at Wal-Mart."

McConnell said digging these trees up and planting them after Christmas is easiest this time of year because of the soft ground. He also said the roots only usually run 12 to 14 inches into the ground. If there was a downer to a live tree, he said, it's the fact that they are heavier than the ones that are cut down, usually by about 50 pounds because of the burlap bag.

Cipriano said a live tree will also cost you about 20 percent more than one chopped down, and live trees will have different instructions for caring for them. That different type of care starts with how you water them.

"Think of it (the live tree) like a plant," Cipriano said. "The soil only needs to remain moist, so don't overwater or you could drown the tree. When the holiday is over, you should put the tree in the garage for a time period of 48 hours to one week so it can reacclimate to the outdoor climate before being planted in its permanent home."

It's that permanent home for trees that the McConnells care about. Tom said it's one of the main reasons he why he established the Christmas tree farm on his property.

"This is our goal," he said in looking over his trees nestled on his 20 acres of land. "It's to preserve the land for the trees, the wildlife habitat, and our streams while allowing people to understand, especially children, where does a Christmas tree come from?"

And for those who want to be green at Christmas but can't buy a live tree, but don't want a fake one, there are always recycling options available afterwards, and Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful will be running its annual program "Bring One for the Chipper" following Christmas.

The event - started in 1984 - offers residents 30 locations throughout the county to drop their tree off at and puts recycled trees to good use through the creation of valuable mulch, most of which will be used in Gwinnett County parks.

According to Director Connie Wiggins, more than 75,000 trees were recycled last year and during the last five years Gwinnett County has recovered the most trees in the state.

"Annually, Gwinnettians recycle one out of every three Christmas trees recycled in Georgia," Wiggins said in a statement. "Placed end to end, the trees collected in Gwinnett last year would stretch from Lawrenceville to Greenville."

For more information on McConnells Tree Farm, call 770-945-7981. For more information on drop-off locations offered by Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful for your Christmas tree, visit their Web site at www.gwinnettcb.org.