Roots and Shoots: It’s January … What To Do with the Christmas Tree?

Recycling the Christmas tree can be as easy as dragging it to the curb for pickup, but in the yard, it has many useful possibilities. The National Christmas Tree Association (of course, that exists) recommended an idea that hadn’t occurred to me. Trees can be used in fishponds as food and a makeshift underwater habitat. Think of it like decorating an aquarium and making a habitat for the fish. Sink the tree into a fishpond, don’t just drop it in to float in an unsightly mess, but actually place it for best results.

discarded xmas treeSince not everyone in Philipstown has a fishpond in the yard and it’s best if we don’t all go out and drop our trees into the Hudson River or a reservoir, other suggestions include creating a bird feeder using the entire tree. Prop it up or lay it on the side in the yard. Coat the branches with peanut butter or hang suet from the branches to attract the birds and they can use it for shelter on these frigid winter days.

The tree can also serve as shelter and food for deer and other wildlife in the yard. It won’t look as nice as it did in the living room, so find an out-of-the-way spot where it can drop its needles. Deer will forage on it and other animals will use it for a place to hide and sleep. If you’ve got a chipper or access to one, make your own wood chips to line a path. Don’t place fresh wood chips directly on flowerbeds, gardens or use as mulch. As they decompose, they’ll hold up the nitrogen in the soil from the plants and that would take away a needed nutrient. Set fresh wood chips aside in a pile for at least a year before using them as an additive or mulch.

The seesaw of freezing and mild temperatures we’re experiencing have a tumultuous effect on our sleeping plants. As the ground freezes and thaws rapidly, it heaves, pushing up bulbs and roots. A good layer of mulch helps protect plants and shrubs from this effect, regulating the temperature. Put the Christmas tree to good use to protect the flowerbeds. Cut off branches and place them around the base of shrubs, younger trees, and in flowerbeds where bulbs are planted. The branches from my tree are going to add another layer of mulch to the garlic I planted last fall. The branches are easy to place and remove in the spring once the garlic sprouts and will also protect tender bulbs from exposure if there’s an early warm spell followed by a frost.

Another solution is to recycle the Christmas tree into a dead hedge, an idea adapted from How to Grow Practically Everything by Zia Allaway and Lia Leendertz.  They don’t specifically mention this as a method for recycling Christmas trees, but it fits the concept. Need a barrier or natural fence someplace in the yard? Create a dead hedge by turning all the natural detritus that collects in the yard into a wildlife-friendly hedge. If you can tolerate messy, simply pile shrub and tree trimmings, vines, foliage and twigs in a row.

For a neater and more controlled hedge, use branches or posts to make a structure for it. The authors of How to Grow Practically Everything suggest weaving willow branches to create sides, but unless you have that on hand, it defeats the purpose of an easy DIY hedge solution in my opinion. As the branches and foliage break down, the hedge can be refilled from the top and become an ongoing solution to effectively composting yard waste that would otherwise be a chore to dispose of.

Critters that are attracted to making the hedge their home shouldn’t be considered a problem. As invasive weeds increasingly overtake our forests and deer destroy native foliage, creating natural spaces for wildlife is a good alternative to them making homes uninvited in garages and crawl spaces.

As a last resort, many towns and villages will have curbside pickup of discarded Christmas trees and may also provide wood chips for pickup. Check your local resources for pickup times and other options if you simply can’t recycle it in the yard. Remember to carefully remove all ornaments, hooks, lights, and tinsel before discarding it, whatever you do with it. Those things will not break down and could harm birds or animals.


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One thought on “Roots and Shoots: It’s January … What To Do with the Christmas Tree?

  1. Dumping Christmas trees in ponds is a terrible idea that should not be encouraged. In many instances, it will be illegal. Ponds and waterways in Philipstown are protected by state law. Dumping any “settleable solids” is forbidden by regulation “Settleable solids” includes yard waste, such as grass clippings and leaves, and would obviously include Christmas trees. Any landscaper who knows his business should be well aware of these regulations. The map showing the classifications of waterways in Putnam County is available on the DEC website.

    When a pond is man-made, nature will repair itself and restore the land through silting. Dumping the Christmas trees or other yard waste will accelerate this process. In addition to being unsightly and reducing the aesthetic value of the pond, the silting will increase flooding during severe weather, causing other damage. The remedy is to dredge the pond at no small expense. One less damaging way to dispose of the Christmas tree is to cut the branches off and use them as cover for plantings such as rhododendrons or azaleas that deer will eat.