Monday, December 26, 2011

Give your Christmas tree another life

By David Burton
University Extension

What can be done with the 35 million Christmas trees harvested in the United States after the Christmas holiday?

According to John Hobbs, agriculture and rural development specialist with University of Missouri Extension, those trees can be given a second life.

“A short-term solution can be as easy as taking the tree outdoors and decorating it as a food source for wildlife,” said Hobbs.

After taking off all the decorations, re-decorate the tree with food items that can be eaten by the birds and squirrels. Things like popcorn or cranberries strung together and hung like garland on the tree become tasty treats for squirrels.

Pine cones smeared with peanut butter and hung on the tree become ornament feeding stations for birds.

“You might also consider hanging apple rings or hollowed-out halves of an orange. Hang it in the tree and fill the orange bowl with peanuts,” said Hobbs.

The tree can be set up and secured in a spot in the yard where everyone can enjoy the action as birds and other animals come to check out what kind of treats are available.

“Not only will the tree provide food for wildlife during the cold winter days but it can also be a place where they can hide from the cold winds. It also acts as a stage for all of our winter birds to use to entertain us on cold, winter days,” said Hobbs.

Sinking your Christmas tree in a pond is an easy way to improve fish habitat and fishing.

The tree serves as little coral reef, in that the branches provide substrate for water plants to grow, and cover for minnows and other forms of small aquatic life.

Larger fish are drawn by the shade and the presence of prey.

Another way to dispose of the tree is to offer it up to the chipper and turn it into useable mulch.

“Many municipalities now offer a service to either drop trees off at a central location or have a chipper move through the neighborhoods, picking up trees,” said Hobbs.

“For those living in rural areas, finding a second use for a Christmas tree is a bit easier,” said Hobbs.

Christmas trees make excellent material to build brush piles for wildlife. These piles provide cover for small animals and birds. The animals use the piles to hide from predators, as safe resting places, and to raise their young.

The first step in building a brush pile is to have a base of large material such as logs, or tree stumps. This provides a place for small animals to access the interior of the pile. Then pile on the Christmas trees.

Hobbs said it will take more than one tree to do the job so this is a great project for several neighbors to share.

“Christmas tree disposal doesn't have to be a major problem. There are several environmentally friendly alternatives. Not only are these methods safe for the environment but they provide a source of enjoyment for you and your friends and family,” said Hobbs.

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