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Over the Garden Fence

Eco-friendly uses for the Christmas tree

Shortly you will begin to see Christmas trees sitting by the curb, waiting for the assigned pick-up date to be collected and mulched. This is one way to be sure your holiday tree gets recycled.

If you get your tree composted in a community program, don’t forget to take advantage of the composted material later by bringing some back home and using it in your landscape beds. Also, any of those fallen needles inside the home can be added directly to the home compost pile.

There are other ways to use your tree right at home to benefit the environment:

For the birds

  • If you are feeding the birds, setting your tree up in the yard gives the birds a place to sit while they take turns going to the feeder. This also provides us more to watch and saves the birds from using more energy to fly back to 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 witnessed this survival technique.
  • 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.
  • Another source of food – and a great family activity – is 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 from the produce too far gone for us to eat. This can continue throughout the winter months.

For the plants

  • If your winter activities don’t include the birds, you can use the entire tree in the landscape. We count on snow to provide an insulating blanket on our tender and fall-planted perennials. So far this winter that has not happened. By using the evergreen branches cut from the trunk to cover those plants, they will benefit in a number of ways:
    • You are providing the winter protection from the drying winds and any branches covering the perennials also will collect additional blowing leaves for further insulation.
    • The soil will stay frozen and the young plants will not be heaved out of the soil by the freezing and thawing cycles that occur.
    • Another is that come early next spring, your perennials are hidden away from the rabbits and other wildlife that enjoy the young tender leaves.
  • You also can set the tree trunk aside until gardening season and plan on using it to support peas or climbing beans or even in the flower bed to grow morning glories or another vining bloom.
  • By the fall of 2022 garden season, the trunk can be burnt in the outdoor fire pit.

For small wildlife

  • If the above options do not fit your needs, donating your tree to a local wildlife organization or pond may be a good idea. They can be used to provide habitat for fish or shelter for smaller wildlife.

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.