MDC suggests ways to “regift” live Christmas trees to nature

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Saint Louis
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. — A live Christmas tree brings us many gifts for the season.  From the spicy-sweet aroma, the elegance of their stature, to the charming decorations that adorn them.  But after the holidays, you can carry on the benefits of live Christmas trees in many conservation-friendly ways by regifting them back to nature, according to Missouri Department of Conservation Department (MDC) foresters.  

Since they come from nature in the first place, one of the advantages live Christmas trees is that they can be recycled to benefit the environment, wildlife, and even people. There are plenty of after-holiday uses to consider. 

“Most live trees can be chipped and turned into mulch, which you can use to return organic matter to the soil,” said MDC Community Forester Mark Grueber.  “As the mulch breaks down, it helps keep soil moist and cool during the summer and warmer during the winter.”

Many municipalities will offer mulching services where residents can drop of their trees and return later to collect the mulch.  Or, if homeowners have no use for it, the mulch might find a place in public works projects to benefit the community.

Along the same lines, gardeners can cut boughs and branches from their trees and place over perennial beds to help protect from frost and snow.  Pine needles are very moisture and mold-resistant, thanks to their waxy qualities.

Used Christmas trees can also give a holiday gift to wildlife, according to Grueber.  “They are great for habitat – place them in a quiet corner of your yard to provide cover for wildlife or stand them up and place bird feeders on them for winter feeding,” he recommended.  Those with property might also use the used trees to build brush piles for wildlife.

And naturally, there are craft ideas that make use of post-holiday trees.  Grueber said there are plenty of ideas to be discovered online.  The branches can find a use as part of a potpourri mix or be woven into an after-holiday wreath.  Discs cut from the trunk, dried in the oven, and painted, will create a multitude of things, like drink coasters, refrigerator magnets, wall art, even ornaments for next year’s tree.

Property owners can sink used trees into their ponds to help create homes for fish.  The trees benefit some of the most popular species that anglers like to pursue, including largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish and crappie.

Since these fish typically spawn in shallow water, MDC recommends tying the tree to a cement block and submerging it at a depth of four-to-seven feet.  This gives emerging fish easy access to the cover.  No need to cut it up, the entire tree is best for creating fish structure.  Of course, you do need to remove all traces of decorations, tinsel, or garlands.  Since the underwater habitat will concentrate fish, place the tree so you can easily cast nearby, and you might see a boost in your catch rate.

Something absolutely not to do with a Christmas tree, though, is burn it in the fireplace.   Evergreen needles contain nitrogen and substances called terpenes, which are highly toxic when burned, making the smoke unsafe to breath.  Burning coniferous trees can also build up flammable, corrosive creosotes on the inside of a chimney.  Finally, evergreen needles might cause sparks, and a fire danger in your home.

One of the many beauties of live Christmas trees is their potential to be recycled in so many beneficial ways.  Regifting them to nature truly embodies the spirit of the season and can continue to provide natural benefits long after the holidays are over.