Recycle your Christmas tree

Since I’ve written this month about the selection and care of Christmas trees, let’s finish our discussion on this topic by discussing what you can do with a used tree.

Other than burning your Christmas tree outdoors (if allowed where you live), here are some additional ideas recently offered from Dr. Rosie Lerner at Purdue University:

First of all, you’ll want to remove all tinsel, plastic and other non-recyclable decorations. You can then use the greenery to provide food and cover for wildlife or chip it into mulch for landscape protection.

Winter birds will appreciate having recycled trees and garlands for cover, especially if you decorate them with bird-food ornaments. You’ll need to secure the tree trunk or garland stems to the ground to prevent them from rolling away in winter winds. Attach to a stable support, such as a fence, or stake with wire or twine.

Decorate with wildlife-friendly ornaments such as suet, molded seeds or disposable birdseed hangers, which are readily available from garden centers and bird supply shops. Homemade treats, including pine cones or stale bread smeared with peanut butter and rolled in birdseed, are also a hit. Be sure to keep these goodies out of reach of dogs and cats.

Christmas trees can also be recycled for mulch around your landscape. Chop or grind smaller branches for wood chips to use in flower, tree and shrub beds. Larger branches can be cut into smaller bundles for winter protective mulch around newly planted perennials and small shrubs. Be sure to remove the branches next spring as the plants begin to grow again.

Many communities have special pick-up service for discarded holiday trees. The trees are usually chipped for use as mulch in parks and other city properties. Check local newspapers or call your local street department for information.

Some natural resources experts say that if you own a private pond, or know someone who does (and who gives you permission), discarded trees can be sunk to improve fish habitat. Small fish use branches as escape areas from larger fish that eat them. Simply tie a small nylon rope around the tree, secure to a cinder block, and heave-ho! Alternatively, use a boat, or wait until a safe layer of ice has formed on the pond and place your tree where you would like it to sink after ice thaws. A good depth for the sunken tree is one with no more than four to six feet of water above the top of the tree.

Note that in Indiana, this practice cannot be done on public lakes without a permit from Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Freshwater lakes are governed by the Lake Preservation Act and Indiana Administrative Code. If approved, the permit carries a $100 fee and requires the permit holder to remove any portion or portions of the fish attractor that become unattached, along with other requirements. Bottom line – check all current laws and ordinances to make sure you are not in violation before you enact a plan.

If you own woodlands or wildlands, Christmas trees make good material to construct brush piles for wildlife. Brush piles create habitat for small mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. The brush piles provide protective cover from predators, and safer areas to raise young. Other substantial base materials will be needed for good brush pile construction in addition to your Christmas tree, such as stumps, logs, or large rocks.

One thing to avoid is burning your Christmas tree in a fireplace or wood stove while green. The resins in the green tree can lead to a flue fire.

John Woodmansee is an extension educator in Whitley and Noble counties.

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