Christmas tree with red and green ornaments.

Picking out a Christmas tree is a favorite tradition this time of year. The whole family will debate what type to get. Should it have soft or prickly needles? Is it the right shape? What size will work? Everyone will have an opinion, but finally you’ll all agree on the perfect one.

Even if you’re an eco-minded individual, one consideration you may forget is if your tree was grown organically. It’s not your fault really. Of the 24.5 million real Christmas trees purchased in the U.S. every year, only 1 percent are grown organically. That doesn’t give you very good odds for finding an organic one. And, it likely means the tree in your living room was sprayed with pesticides.

Christmas trees and pesticides

Conventional growers spray a variety of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides on Christmas trees throughout their long life cycle. (It takes a typical Christmas tree 5 to 10 years to grow to maturity!) Many of the pesticides approved for use by the Environmental Protection Agency on your Christmas tree have been linked to cancer, hormonal disruption, neurotoxicity, organ damage, reproductive/birth defects, asthma, and more, according to Beyond Pesticides, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting public health and the environment.

The big but here though is that with zero studies on the effects, there’s no real way to know if residue from pesticides can harm you. Still, for those of us who try to live an organic lifestyle, it would be nice to find a tree that hasn’t been sprayed with chemicals.

Turns out, that’s quite the challenge. Most trees you see at big box stores, city lots or big garden centers are conventionally grown. The majority of the trees have been shipped from big plantations in Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Washington State, New York or Virginia.

Finding an organic Christmas tree

If you want to find an organic Christmas tree, your best bet is to check with a local grower. Ask how the tree was raised. If you look at tree farms where you can cut your own tree and farmers markets, you’ll also be more likely to find a sustainably-grown tree. Here are a few more resources to help you find an organic Christmas tree:

Beyond Pesticides
This nonprofit group provides some sources for organically-grown Christmas trees as well as up to date information about pesticides.

Green Promise
This website provides a list of organic Christmas tree farms by state.

Local Harvest
Find farmers markets, family farms, CSAs and farm stands in your area. Local Harvest also lists sources for organic wreaths.

Bonus: If you do score an organic tree, it likely won’t have been sheared into the conical shape that’s the industry standard for Christmas trees today. Yours might have a more old-fashioned look, with imperfect branches and a more relaxed frame. There’s something quite nice about that though, wouldn’t you say?

Benefits of a real tree

Don’t worry if you already bought a conventional Christmas tree. Real trees (even non-organic ones) are at least a better choice than artificial trees. Real Christmas trees are often grown on land that isn’t suitable for other crops. And while it may seem like an artificial tree is the most sustainable choice because you can use it longer, the average family uses an artificial tree for only six to nine years before throwing it away, where it sits in a landfill and pollutes the environment. If you do have a real tree, don’t forget to reuse it after Christmas. We have some great ideas to reuse your Christmas tree. Most cities also offer curbside pickup for recycling Christmas trees.

Follow Kirsten on Twitter @kirsten_hudsonGoogle+ and Pinterest.

Related on Organic Authority

6 Ways to Rethink the Tree
Don’t Toss That Tree!
Finding a Less Toxic, Sustainable Christmas Tree

image: maaco