Dreaming of a green holiday?

From purchasing organic, locally raised Christmas trees to decorating a tree that will eventually be planted in The City, there are plenty of ways to tilt the red-and-green season a little closer to the green.

Those who hesitate to kill a tree for Christmas’ sake can let go of some of that guilt, environment experts say.

Christmas trees are grown on farms, where they spend five to 10 years converting carbon dioxide to oxygen, so purchasing a real tree is generally less environmentally objectionable than purchasing an artificial tree, according to Mark Westlund of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment.

“Artificial trees are nearly impossible to recycle,” he said, “whereas a living tree can at least be chipped up or mulched for a park, or burned for energy.”

Tree decorations also are generally in sync with the “reduce, reuse, recycle mantra,” Westlund said.

“If you think about it, a Christmas ornament that you’ve been using for many, many years … [is] not only emotionally rewarding, it’s got its environmental benefits as well,” he said.

For those who want to make sure their Christmas tree also is a gift to the planet, there are several options.

Each year, The City and nonprofit partner Friends of the Urban Forest put about 120 potted trees up for “rent” for the holidays. For $95, sponsors can take home a tree, decorate it, nurture it for a month and then return it to The City, which will plant it on a street. The catch?

They are not pines, but rather species that grow well in San Francisco soil, including the Southern magnolia and the small-leaf tristania.

Doug Lybeck of Friends of the Urban Forest said the trees sell out each year.

Farms offer guiltless trees

For those who think conifer and Christmas are the only appropriate pairing, there are more environmentally conscious options than purchasing a tree from your average lot.

Many holiday trees are trucked in from other states, such as Oregon or Washington, and they are often treated with chemical fertilizers or pesticides; chemical-free trees are available locally, however. Bay Area pick-and-cut tree farms, including Skyline Farm in San Mateo County and Black Road Christmas Tree Farm near Los Gatos, are pesticide-free, said Hans Johsens of Skyline. And since they’re grown nearby, there’s no transportation added to their carbon footprint.

Skyline Farm has been in Johsens’ wife’s family for more than 50 years, he said, and the farm has had some of the same customers for nearly that long. None of the trees are treated with chemicals; the hardy varieties they grow don’t need it, he said.

Customers are asked to cut off trees with a couple layers of branches left above the stump so a new tree can grow. Some stump cultures are nearly 50 years old, Johsens said.

“My father-in-law was probably responsible for personally planting somewhere around a million trees,” he said. “So we figure our carbon credits are pretty well paid for.”

kworth@sfexaminer.com

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