Monday, December 24, 2018

In the Garden – What to do with the Christmas tree?

Ruth de Jauregui

Credit: shaneclements /

While the festivities tonight and tomorrow probably feature a cut tree, decorated to the max and lit by numerous lights, it's likely that the tree is already too dry to leave up for more than a few more days. Many cities have Christmas tree pickup after the holidays, and in some areas, there are non-profits that pick up trees for a nominal fee.

Credit: earl53 /
Though these are always options, gardeners can continue to enjoy their tree for months after the holidays have passed. There are several ways the needles and a bare tree can be incorporated into the landscape.

Consider taking the entire tree outside, stand and all, after removing the fragile decorations, tinsel, garlands and lights. Shake the tree over a tarp to remove as many dead needles as possible. Then place the tree (in the stand) outside of a window or sliding door where you can enjoy the show.

String popcorn or dried berries to make a garland, and wrap it around the tree for the birds. Hang pine cones smeared with peanut butter from the branches. Suspend little homemade bird feeders filled with seed or small hummingbird feeders for the little birds. Add solar-powered twinkle lights to add night interest.

 Quail - Credit: rollingroscoe /
Pesticide- and flocking-free trees can be put into the garden pond to serve as shelter and egg-laying habitat for fish, frogs and amphibians. Don't drop off trees (or other organic matter and trash) into public waters though; it can generate a significant fine for dumping.

Anna's Hummingbird - Credit: Becky Matsubara / Flickr
Country gardeners can simply set the tree outside for bunny and bird shelters. Placed out in the back forty, the tree will gradually decompose. Meanwhile, quail, ground squirrels, wild rabbits and other wildlife will enjoy the addition to their habitat.

Cut the small twigs from the tree and use them as supports for flowers. Larger branches can be set aside and used to stake tomatoes, peas, green beans and other fruits and vegetables in the spring and summer garden. The denuded trunk can be used as a border for flower or vegetable beds.

While some creative gardeners cut the trunk of the tree into rounds to use as coasters and trivets or to line paths, be aware that most species used as Christmas trees have sticky sap. Clean the saw carefully after cutting the trunk into discs. Allow the wood to dry completely before painting or coating with varnish or polyurethane.

Credit: davidpwhelan /
Put the dry needles on the compost pile, or spread them over flowerbeds as a natural mulch. If a chipper is available, chip the entire tree for mulch. When spring arrives, dig the needles or chips into the soil. All soils benefit from the added organic matter. It lightens clay soils and helps sandy soils retain moisture.

Check out my other In the Garden articles; the links are at the bottom of my #OurAuthorGang profile.