SHOULD YOU DO WITH YOUR CHRISTMAS TREE?
by Whit Gibbons
December 25, 2005
What do you
do with your Christmas tree next week? The question is of course inapplicable
to the one-third of the nation's households who have no Christmas tree
in their home and is easy to answer for the multitude of families who
have an artificial tree that goes back into storage. But in the more than
30 million homes that have real Christmas trees, where should the trees
go when their job is done? The question has an ecologically gratifying
answer. Although more than a million acres of the United States were used
this year to grow trees that were cut down and kept less than a month,
no matter what you do now, your action will be environmentally sound.
about living organisms is that they die. Of course, a Christmas tree is
functionally dead before you take it home, unless you happen to get a
rooted one you can plant in the backyard after Christmas. (In my experience,
these do not die until the next summer.) But during this season most people
have to deal with a dead tree in the house. Despite the "12 days
of Christmas," which last through January 5, some people say that
if your Christmas tree is in the house past midnight December 31, bad
luck will befall you for the entire year. You do not have to be superstitious
or a pagan to see that a dead tree with dry, falling needles that make
it a potential tinder box for a fire is incentive enough not to go 12
if you have a dead tree with needles littering the floor each time you
jiggle it? Time to get the lights and ornaments off and the tree outside.
Once the tree is lying on its side outside the front door, you can begin
to make choices. One ecologically sound approach is to drag the tree into
an out-of-sight spot in the yard. If such a discreet location is not possible,
and the tree ends up in a spot where everyone can see it, tell your neighbors
you are using it to create "wildlife habitat." Dead trees do,
in fact, create wildlife habitat for wood-dwelling insects, fungi, and
occasionally amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals, depending on the
stage of decay, type of tree, and location. So, you are actually doing
what you say, though the inhabitants of your created wildlife habitat
may not be obvious.
rationale for leaving the tree in your yard is to use the dry branches
for building fires in a fireplace. Old Christmas tree limbs make great
fire starters because they crackle loudly, burn brightly, and are aromatic.
If your tree has been up for a week or more, you can probably start using
the branches right away. Be advised that some organizations decry the
idea of burning a Christmas tree in the fireplace because of safety concerns
about the potential buildup of creosote. So, check into the potential
hazards before taking my advice on how to start a fire.
Another approach is to throw the tree into your favorite fishing lake
to create habitat for fish. A friend who does this every year claims he
catches more fish in that spot. He does not mention whether his hooks
are snagged by tiny branches well into summer. But whether better fishing
is the result or not, I cannot see any environmental reason not to discard
old Christmas trees in a river or lake.
solution many communities use for Christmas tree disposal is to consolidate
discarded ones into a giant heap of pine, fir, and spruce in an open park
area. The trees are then ground into mulch for landscaping around the
city. Finally, a really simple option exists for people who live in a
community where trash pickup includes removal of vegetation. Haul the
tree to the curb and forget about it. Whichever of these options you choose,
you can close out the holiday season with the assurance of having been
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