In the late 1800s, when decorating a tree for the holidays became popular, evergreens were bedecked with such Earth-friendly decorations as strings of popcorn, gilded nuts and luminous candles. Today, millions of people carry on this tradition by bringing Christmas trees into their homes, adding an element of splendor and festivity to their own celebrations — but also an element of waste.
After the parties are over and the season has passed, the once-splendid tree transforms into a browning living-room behemoth, and the job of disrobing it of its trimmings and tossing it carelessly outside becomes just one more household chore. Before you follow this unfortunate holiday tradition, take heed: There are several ways to recycle your Christmas tree, giving new life to both it and your New Year’s resolutions to live lighter on our planet.
1. Living Christmas trees that come with their roots intact can, of course, be planted and enjoyed for many years. Pack the earth ball containing the roots in a bucket with sawdust, potting soil or other mulch. Keep the soil continually moist. Plant outdoors as soon as possible after Christmas.
2. A whole Christmas tree makes an excellent bird feeder for your backyard. Stick the tree in the ground or leave it in its stand. A wide variety of birds will be attracted by suet, cranberry and popcorn strings, stale bread and dried, chopped fruit in mesh bags. If you grow sunflower seeds, simply hang the whole sunflower head on the tree. Your family will discover that chickadees, song sparrows, cardinals and a host of other birds come for the food and stay for the shelter.
3. Cut off all the branches and use the trunk to edge a garden. The trunk can also be strategically placed in your garden as a resting spot for birds, squirrels and other little critters. Learn more in Extend the Life of Your Christmas Tree.
4. Place whole evergreen boughs on perennial beds or nursery rows to protect them from winter freezes and spring thaws. The boughs provide the steady temperatures that most plants need. Or, just use the boughs as post-Christmas house decorations.
5. Many communities throughout the country have tree-recycling programs, in which trees are collected from residents and then chopped up and used as mulch for plants in community parks and gardens. To find out if such a program exists near you, call city hall. Or, have your tree chipped at a local garden center and use it yourself for ground cover or mulch. (Or promise the gardener in your life this belated gift!)
6. The trunk can be sawed into logs and burned in your fireplace. Note: Don’t burn the branches, since they can send off sparks. This article offers excellent firewood splitting tips.
7. Both trunk and branches can be used by woodworking hobbyists to make any number of items, such as Christmas reindeer, birdhouses, candlesticks or paperweights. Feeling boldly confident? Try whittling your family portrait!
8. Use the needles to make aromatic potpourris and sachets to enjoy year-round. After removing the decorations, strip branches of their needles, which will retain their pungency indefinitely in brown paper bags.
9. If you still have your Christmas tree out in the yard when warm weather appears, there’s still a use for it. If permitted in your community, burn the branches and spread the ashes in your garden. The branches contain valuable nutrients and minerals that can enrich the soil and help yield better flowers and vegetables.
10. Last but not least: You can have a tree for the holidays without spending money or needlessly destroying an evergreen if you make your own! (OK, so this isn’t exactly recycling.) You may have plenty of evergreens in your yard in need of pruning. Simply bundle a few large, pruned branches together and arrange, tree-like, in a watertight container. Get more details in Make Your Own Christmas Tree.
Christmas is still a week away, but with all these great ideas for re-purposing this piney tradition, you’ll be happy to have this extra time to plan which great ways you want to use to carry the splendor of the yuletide season well into spring.
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