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Over the garden fence: Give Christmas trees a second life

There are other uses for leftover Christmas trees that can save them from the curb.
There are other uses for leftover Christmas trees that can save them from the curb. Centre Daily Times, file

’Tis the season for giving second life to your Christmas tree and holiday greens.

For those who have real Christmas trees, don’t just throw your trees out. Once you are ready to take down your tree and remove your holiday greens, plan to give them a second life in your garden. Used evergreens make perfect anchors to keep winter mulch in place. They’re also good emergency windbreaks for other evergreens and they make great feeding stations for birds.

Once you get your tree outside, bang it on the ground to remove loose needles and then decide how you want to use it. My family has had Fraser firs in the past, and the needles stayed on a long time. A few years ago, we had a huge Fraser fir purchased from a retired colleague of mine — Larry Kuhn, who owns Kuhn’s Christmas Tree Farm — and when decorated, it had more than 1,000 lights. My wife, Phyllis, must have set a record that year. It was indeed a beautiful tree, and when we were done enjoying it we gave it a second life.

Getting it in and out of the house was indeed another story.

If you are going to use your tree and decorative sprays of evergreens to anchor winter mulch, strip branches from the trunk and place boughs at the edges of your mulched areas. The needles hold what’s underneath, catch windswept leaves and allow air to reach the soil surface underneath.

If you haven’t gotten around to mulching your plants for winter, you certainly have a chance, because we are still having summer-like weather. Before you put your evergreen anchors down, protect new plantings, shallow-rooted ornamentals and perennials with straw or leaves that don’t mat (oak, beech and sycamore leaves are fine), or use any other lightweight material you have on-hand.

If you are going to use your leftover tree for the birds, prop it up near a window so you can enjoy your visitors when they come to feed. Hang on it strings of cranberries and popcorn, fasten hunks of suet, decorate with fresh apple slices and halves of oranges filled with peanut butter and nuts, and hang feeders full of wild bird seed. Your tree won’t last forever, but it should hold needles for a month or more.

If your tree is a live one, you can continue to use it as a decorative feeder for the birds all winter after you finish planting it, watering well and protecting it with a layer of winter mulch.

You can also use your holiday evergreens to protect tender live evergreens and new plantings in exposed locations. In a normal year, if you didn’t get around to putting in stakes for burlap or latticed windshields while the ground was unfrozen, these holiday leftovers can help. Put them on the windward side of your plants for protection from winter winds. The winter winds can indeed desiccate your plantings.

You can see that your Christmas tree and evergreen decorations can continue giving well into next year. Think about giving your Christmas tree and greens a second life around the property.

Bill Lamont is a professor and extension vegetable specialist in the department of plant science at Penn State and can be reached by email at wlamont@psu.edu.

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