Just about now, you can see holiday trees sitting in the front or side yard, waiting for the assigned pick up date to be collected and mulched. This is one way to be sure your holiday tree gets recycled to the benefit of the environment. The follow through to getting your tree composted in a community program is to be sure your take advantage of the composted material later by bringing some back home and using it in your landscape beds. Those fallen needles that need to be collected as you take the tree outdoors can go to the compost pile. If your community does not recycle holiday trees, consider contacting wildlife organizations to see if they can benefit from using your tree. They can be used to provide habitat for fish.
There are a few more ways to continue to benefit from your tree right in your own yard. Holiday tree recycling is another way we get to help the environment. Sharing this information annually is a great reminder of how easy you can contribute. If you are feeding the birds, setting your tree up nearby gives the birds a place to sit while they take turns going to the feeder. This gives us more to watch and saves the birds from using energy to fly back to the trees and shrubs farther away during the cold winter. That tree also provides shelter from stormy weather. If you already have some evergreens in the landscape, you have already witnessed this survival technique. While you may have an artificial tree, there is likely a neighbor that has a live tree that you can get ahold of. You can buy or make your own suet balls to hang in the tree as another source of food and energy for the birds. You will begin to attract the larger birds that really enjoy suet and provide more entertainment. Other sources of food and a great family activity will be to pop some popcorn, buy a bag of cranberries and string them together to hang on the tree. Clear out the crisper drawer in the refrigerator and put out apple or orange slices that are too far gone for us to eat.
If your winter activities don't include the birds, you can use the tree in the home landscape. By using the evergreen branches cut from the trunk to cover tender perennials, you will be providing winter protection and hiding them from the rabbits early next spring when there is little else to eat. Any branches covering the perennials will also collect additional blowing leaves for protection. The soil will remain colder too, delaying early spring growth at could be caught by that late spring frost. Save the trunk for the 2016 garden season and plan on using it to support peas or beans or grow morning glories in the garden. By the end of the garden season, the trunk can be burnt in the outdoor fire pit.
About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.