The best friend on earth of man is the tree: when we use the tree respectfully and economically we have one of the greatest resources of the earth.
After the holidays, don’t just kick your used Christmas tree to the curb. (Unless, of course, your curbside hauler offers recycling!)
Natural Christmas trees are completely biodegradable, and can be easily recycled for mulch or other purposes. Read on for some conventional–and unconventional–tree recycling options, courtesy of the National Christmas Tree Association.
A Chip Off the Old Block
Mulching is perhaps the most readily available option. Tree recycling and mulching programs are a fast-growing trend in communities throughout the country. So check with your local hauler to see if they offer this service.
Typically, they will chip and shred the trees, making the mulch available for use in your landscaping. Alternatively, you can rent a chipper and recycle your own tree.
Here are a few more ideas:
• Use branch cuttings as insulation for perennials or to stake up other plants.
• Cut the tree trunk into 2″ thick discs and use as edging around flower beds or walkways.
• If you have a private pond (or know someone who does), you can place the tree on top of the ice, and when the ice melts, the tree will sink and provide habitat for fish. (See “Fish Feeders,” below.)
The City of Jackson recommends that you drop your Christmas tree off at the Rodeo Grounds parking lot, next to the big blue recycling containers. (Note that this service is free through January only.) From there, the tree will be mulched for public service, or used for heating fuel.
Innovative Tree Recycling Across the Country
There are several truly innovative tree recycling efforts going on across the country. Let’s take a look at a few of them:
Some communities use Christmas trees to make erosion barriers along lakes and rivers, and to help rebuild sand dunes.
For example, when Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey’s Island Beach State Park in 2012, it flattened the dunes, pushing massive amounts of sand hundreds of feet inland. Three months later, after the Christmas holidays, local volunteers dragged hundreds of old Christmas trees across the sand and laid them in a snaking line along the beach.
The trees served as a foundation for new dunes by trapping windborne sand in their needles and branches.
This project was the brainchild of Katie Barnett, a specialist with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Barnett issued a call for Christmas trees on the park service’s Facebook page, hoping for 1,000 trees. She got 4,000.
As mentioned above, used trees can be sunk into fish ponds and streams, making an excellent refuge and feeding area for fish.
In fact, the Oregon conservation group Trout Unlimited has been using Christmas trees for fish habitats for the past six years. Group members place the trees into a side channel of the Necanicum River, where the trees provide food sources and protection from predators for baby coho salmon.
The “Christmas for Coho” project is one of many across the country that recycle old Christmas trees into fish habitat. Similar projects have taken place in California, Missouri, Ohio and Louisiana.
Home for Herons
Officials at the Baker’s Lake Nature Preserve in northern Illinois faced a dilemma when the area became overcrowded with herons and egrets. Forced out of their native habitats by development, the birds were destroying much of the natural vegetation at the nesting site.
To recreate a home for the birds, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, in cooperation with conservation groups, decided to recycle Christmas trees to create nesting structures. The plan worked beautifully.
Today, the annual project uses 300-400 recycled trees each year. It attracts hundreds of pairs of great blue herons, great egrets, cormorants and black-crowned night herons to the preserve’s rookery.
Make It Edible
You may not be able to provide a home for herons, but you can still recycle your old Christmas tree into a bird or fish sanctuary and feeder.
The Missouri Department of Conservation offers these suggestions:
Remember: Make sure all decorations, hooks, garland and tinsel strands are removed before you place the tree in your garden or backyard.
Then, feel free to “decorate” the tree with fresh orange slices, strung popcorn or suet to attract the birds. (For more suggestions on making your Christmas tree “edible,” click here.)