This is the season when doors and more abound with lush evergreen wreaths, which some households may be making themselves, while others may prefer to pick up at the store or at a nursery specializing in holiday greenery displays. There’s nothing quite like a wreath for bringing in a rich aroma of evergreen deliciousness, paired with green cheer at a sometimes gloomy time of the year. But did you know that your wreath might carry a hidden environmental cost?
In theory, wreaths are actually good for the environment, because they’re made from the tender tips of evergreen trees. Harvesting tips, a process known as tipping, will stimulate new growth and allow trees to grow fuller and bushier than before. It’s a great way to shape trees in and around the garden, and to make sure that growth is even and healthy so your landscaping looks balanced. Managed use of evergreens in state parks, reserves, and other public resources can include tipping and other activities to keep trees healthy, when it’s done in a sustainable way — it mimics natural animal feeding habits, so trees are accustomed to it in the winter.
The problem is that illegal tippers don’t operate sustainably. Not only do they not ask for permission to take tips, but they don’t take just the tips: they remove whole branches. In a report on National Public Radio, Maine Forest Ranger Courtney Hammond talks about the scope of the problem, which includes tippers trespassing on private land to harvest not just tips and branches, but sometimes whole trees. It’s a particularly acute problem in low-income areas where jobs may be limited during the cold season and people are desperate for the several thousand dollars that tipping can bring in during the winter.
While some wreathmaking firms and retailers are highly scrupulous about their supply chain and the source of their materials, others aren’t, and that means illegally harvested greens could be ending up on your freshly painted door. Why sully the holidays with an environmentally unfriendly wreath?
What can you do to make sure your wreath comes from sustainable sources? Ask your retailer where the wreath came from, and contact the manufacturer to find out if its greens come from licensed tippers. Request information about the auditing and monitoring process to find out more about how the company ensures its evergreens come from only the most sustainable and ethical of sources, and if you aren’t satisfied, complain to both the manufacturer and the retailer: and make sure to tell the retailer why you won’t be buying their wreaths this year.
You can also get around the problem by crafting your own holiday wreath, which ensures you harvest the greens yourself and know they come from ethical sources. You’ll want to remove approximately 14 inches from the end of a limb to get the desired length and the most useful, tender parts of the tree. Make sure to tip evenly and leave some foliage for animals and birds who will be relying on it this winter — and if you don’t have access to evergreens, always ask before tipping trees on private land. (Harvesting material in state parks is typically illegal without a special permit, although you can ask if a park is trimming or tipping trees this season and might be willing to share some branches with you.)