Green Alternatives to Christmas Trees

Photo: Kim/HometalkNow that Thanksgiving is over, many households are getting ready to put up their Christmas trees. If you're thinking about going to a tree lot this year, though, why not reconsider? There are lots of ways to celebrate the holidays that don't involve cutting down a tree (and then figuring out what to do with it when you're done), and if you aren't convinced that there are cool ways to do something different with the tree, well, we're here to help. Say goodbye to cut conifers and hello to a whole new world of Christmas trees.

1. Live trees

An obvious alternative choice, live trees are purchased in pots and planted out later, after you've enjoyed them indoors. Some precautions, though, because a live tree can be laden with some of the same problems as a cut one if you aren't careful. Do you have a place to plant it? Is it appropriate to your climate? Are you going to regret planting it later (too much shade on the garden or house, for example) and end up having to cut it down? Can you commit to caring for it for at least two years while it gets established?

One way to get around these problems is to keep using a potted tree. Potted lemons, limes, and other citrus can make fun indoor Christmas trees, with a slightly unusual look. Some families like to use the Christmas cactus (hey, it comes predecorated with bright mauve blooms!). Plants and small shrubs that actually like containers and can be displayed on the porch, in the sunroom, or in the garden at other times of the year can make a great choice for a live tree. (Rosemary is a great choice: edible in addition to decorative!)

2. Wall decals

It might sound dorky, but wall decals can be a fantastic way to bring in the Christmas spirit without the mess or the environmental problems. In addition, they're great for small houses and apartments where you don't really have the room to set up. Simply apply the decal and enjoy it over the season -- and carefully store it for use next year!

If you have a chalkboard wall in your home thanks to a creative Atlanta painting project, you can also turn the wall into your tree. Hang ornaments across the wall, add presents at the foot of the "tree," and turn a one-dimensional work of art into a holiday display.

Yet another variation: use butcher paper to make a tree backdrop, which you can roll up and store for the following year. Over the years, you may add decorative features, art by members of the family, and more, turning your tree into a living family history.

3. The branch

It's minimalist, it's Scandinavian, and it takes up way less space than a whole tree. A single branch anchored in a pot of stones, sand, glass markers, or similar material can add holiday grace to the home. Once the season is over, you can compost your branch or throw it right back into the woods it came from, if you happen to live in a rural area.

4. The tomato cage

Tomato cages can be used for all kinds of things, but they're particularly useful for fakeout Christmas trees because of their distinctive shape. Try wrapping a cage in globe lights for a minimalist and bold tree, or using greenery (evergreens need trimming to be healthy, so it's environmentally friendly and in keeping with landscaping best practices to use cut greens -- just not whole trees -- in holiday decor) to create a striking holiday ornament. Other alternatives include wrapping the cage in fake greens (which can be recycled for next year), paper strands, silk streamers, and anything else you can imagine.

5. Book tree

Have some books you don't be getting to until after the holidays? Stack them up in a conic form to create a distinctive Christmas tree that your guests will definitely love talking about -- just make sure no one tries to borrow a book, or your whole tree might just topple!

6. Don't fear the faux

While plastics aren't great for the environment, faux trees do offer the advantage of being reusable. And if fake greens aren't your speed, have you thought about going snow white? It's so obviously fake that it's clear you're not trying to fool anyone, and it can make for an intriguing holiday look with the right ornaments and decor. If you have time and patience, you can also make your own faux tree with paper twists for the needles. Some companies use silk and other textiles for their faux needles, which is another option!

That said, Mr. Green favors real trees over fake (if you aren't going to consider other alternatives), as do many other environmental experts, who argue that the carbon impact of a faux tree is still greater than that of the equivalent cut evergreens. If you do decide to go faux, you may want to seek a plastic-free option to get around this problem.

Inhabitat has some more great eco-friendly Christmas trees on their site, if you feel like buying instead of making one this year. (No judgement, we know how time can be crunched!) And for even more DIY inspiration, take a look at these 35 awesome ideas...or the #holidayhome hashtag on Hometalk.

Katie Marks writes for

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