January 7, 2017
1 - Old Christmas trees can be put to use in the garden after the holidays rather than being burned or sent to clutter the landfill.
Yard and Garden January 7, 2017
What can I do with my Christmas tree now? It is not one of the living Christmas trees that can be planted. It is drying and I worry that it is a fire hazard. I do not want to burn it or just put it in the trash to go to the landfill. Do you have any good gardener solutions for me?
- Kim J.
While some people do burn old Christmas trees in their fireplace or outside and some people send it to the landfill. I have been warned that burning a Christmas tree in a fireplace is not a good practice because it can increase the accumulation of creosote in the chimney, leading to increased chances for a chimney fire; it burns hot enough that it may damage the firebox and chimney, and that heat may ignite existing creosote in the chimney. There are other, safer options.
Some municipalities provide a place where you can take the old trees to be chipped and turned into mulch. Sometimes you can take some of that mulch for use at home, or just leave it for others to use. The chipped tree can be added to a compost pile, but will be fairly slow to decompose.
For gardeners without access to a chipper, they can trim the branches with needles from the trees. These branches may be used as mulch in perennial beds or under trees to moderate fluctuations in soil temperature, reduce evaporation, and make it a little more difficult for weeds to grow. As summer arrives, these branches may be removed, allowing the fallen needles to remain and additional mulch added. It is OK to just leave the branches in place as mulch as long as you do not need access to the soil in that location.
You can also place the tree in the garden or flower bed with the base of its trunk buried in the soil to hold the tree upright, or tied to a stake to keep it upright. Bird feeders and suet for birds can be attached to the tree like ornaments. The birds attracted to the tree will appreciate the food and shelter provided by the needles, even as the needles dry and turn brown. Even after the needles fall from these trees, the bird feeders will continue to attract birds.
As the weather warms, the tree left standing in the garden may be used as a trellis for climbing vegetables or flowers. These will be good supports for cucumbers, beans, Malabar spinach, and peas. Even tomatoes, vining squash, and small melons can be supported if the branches are trimmed back to just the stronger branches. You may have to tie tomatoes and some of these larger vines to the branches, but be sure to use soft, stretchy fabric to bind them. Old hosiery, socks, and t-shirts serve well for this purpose. Climbing flowering plants such as morning glory or scarlet runner beans may also be grown on the old Christmas tree.
Because the conifer trees often used for Christmas trees are slow to rot, they may persist in the garden in these unique situations for several years as long as you like the way they appear. It is always fun to find unusual ways to repurpose and recycle items into the garden.
For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension publications Web site at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h, or to read past articles of Yard and Garden go to http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/periodicals.html
Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist, retired from New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.