Once the Christmas holiday is over, the chore of taking down and disposing of the cut Christmas tree remains. Today, because of solid waste regulations, most communities will no longer permit the used Christmas trees to be hauled out with the garbage and sent to the sanitary landfill, reports Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension.
However, Christmas tree disposal does not have to be a problem, because there are several environmentally sound disposal methods available. People who maintain bird feeders can help the winter residents by creating a small windbreak with a single tree. Put the old Christmas tree on the northwest side of bird feeders that are exposed to the wind. The tree will provide protection for the birds and also help keep birdseed from blowing away. However, don't place the tree too close to the feeder, so it does not become a hiding place for predators, such as cats.
Another option is to place your tree in the backyard, anchor it with a steel fencepost, and then decorate it as a food source for wildlife. This can lengthen your family's enjoyment of the tree and attract an assortment of birds, chipmunks, and squirrels to your yard. Some items that Ferree suggests that can be used to "decorate" your tree include: strung popcorn, pinecones smeared with peanut and sunflower seeds, strung cranberries, apple rings and orange slices.
A number of local fishing clubs urge homeowners to drop off their old Christmas trees to be used as fish attractors in their lakes and ponds. Holes are typically drilled through the trunks, the trees are connected by cable and anchored by concrete blocks and are then placed in 8 to 10 feet of water. The Christmas trees serve as places where small fish can hide from larger predator species. And, hopefully, the larger fish will gather around the trees in the area in hopes of an easy meal.
Christmas trees also make excellent material to construct brush piles to provide cover for a variety of wildlife, including small mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. Some good locations for brush piles in rural areas are near field borders and woodland areas. An ideal brush pile is about 6 feet high and about 15 to 20 feet in diameter. If the brush pile is smaller than that, predators can often get into them. If they are larger than what is recommended, they lose some of their effectiveness. Undeveloped areas in suburban yards are also potential areas for brush piles to attract wildlife. However Ferree cautions that homeowners should check local ordinances before constructing a brush pile in a town or subdivision.
Another environmentally sound way to dispose of your tree is to chip it up with a chipping machine to use as landscaping mulch. The mulch can be used in the garden or planting beds to help reduce weed problems, modify soil temperature and help to retain moisture.
According to Ferree, properly disposing of Christmas trees will benefit Illinois' natural resources and will also help to save landfill space. Not only are the above methods safe for the environment, but they can provide a source of enjoyment for you, your family, and your friends.