Home & Garden

Christmas tree can be green even after the holiday

There's nothing more pitiful than seeing a stripped, discarded Christmas tree lying on the curb, especially the day after Christmas.

Today is only the second day of Christmas, and, remember, there are 12 days. Some people even celebrate until Candlemas, Feb. 2. There's no hurry to return to the humdrum. Especially when the humdrum includes January.

It is true that some trees, having been up, perhaps, since before Thanksgiving, have already dried out and are a fire hazard. If that's the case, they do belong outside. But not on the curb awaiting the garbage man, bringing us all down.

Instead, you can move the tree to a corner of your deck or the backyard as a wildlife habitat, or take it to one of 10 sites in Wichita, or nine elsewhere in Sedgwick County, that recycle real Christmas trees into mulch. These sites are open through Jan. 23.

If you take the tree to a recycling site, be sure to remove all of the decorations first. It's true that you always see some silver tinsel threaded through the Christmas tree mulch, and it kind of makes you smile, in that this-isn't-going-to-be-good-for-the-environment-and-break-down-like-organic-matter-but-my-how-it-glistens way.

"It's not as bad as when people leave their ornaments or their lights on," says Caroline Hosford, environmental training specialist for Sedgwick County, which sponsors the recycling sites. "It damages the chipper. It becomes an expense. There's a Dumpster right there they can put them in."

You don't have to take a tree to be recycled in order to benefit from the mulch. The trees are chipped periodically, and the mulch is available for free on a first-come, first-served basis.

"We never have any left over," Hosford says. "The largest number of trees is at the Extension (21st and Ridge Road), and that's where the greatest amount of mulch can be found day to day. They do mulch all of them, and people can take however much or however little they want."

The tree recycling sites have been open since Tuesday, and, in case you were wondering, as I was, "they don't get many but they do get some" trees at those spots before Christmas.

But you don't even have to wrest the tree into the trunk to recycle it. I put my small tree in an urn or pot on the front porch, or in a corner of the backyard where the intersection of the fences hold it up, and it adds a welcome evergreen presence to the winter landscape.

It also benefits the birds, says Charlie Barden, Extension forester at K-State. He recommends putting the tree in a corner of the deck and spreading bird seed nearby. Or tie the tree to a deciduous tree or post near a bird feeder, he says.

"The birds benefit from having escape cover nearby when hawks or cats threaten, and the dense boughs reduce the wind chill on a cold night."

Joel Lerner, writing in the Washington Post, has an even easier version of wildlife habitat:

"Lay the tree in the back of your garden, slightly out of view. Allow it to collect leaf litter and plant debris. Place a hollow log or a dead shrub behind it. Squirrels, rabbits, foxes, toads, turtles and birds depend on this type of protected area for nesting and shelter from predators. As the tree decays, it will provide food for insects and worms that will in turn be eaten by birds."

You can take apart a little tree and use the parts in different ways in the garden. Clip off the branches and use them as insulation around semi-hardy perennials or trees and shrubs that were recently planted, Barden says. Or "strip the smaller woody stems off the main branches, putting the needle-rich stems in your compost pile," Lerner writes. "The needles will add nitrogen, while the wood stems will add carbon."

Use the leftover trunk as a garden stake next spring, Barden suggests.

"Or cut and let it dry for a few weeks, and you will have some easy lighting firewood. Just beware that most conifer species tend to spark and pop more than hardwoods, as resin pockets in the wood make tiny explosions. This can delight the youngsters, but for safety's sake keep an eye on the fire when burning Christmas tree logs."

Sounds like a New Year's Eve production to me. Beats boxing up the artificial.