Give your Christmas tree new purpose

Pine needles from Christmas trees can be used in a sachet or potpourri indoors to keep that Christmassy smell alive. Enlargephoto

Shaun Stanley/Durango Herald

Pine needles from Christmas trees can be used in a sachet or potpourri indoors to keep that Christmassy smell alive.

There’s certainly nothing much lonelier looking than a Christmas tree that’s been stripped of its decorations after the holidays.

If you are like most of us, you have already taken down your Christmas tree, or will be doing so in the coming days. But don’t be so quick to put it out for the trash men or toss it in your burn pile.

Up to 30 million cut trees are sold each year for the Christmas season. If you chose a cut tree this year, you enjoyed a traditional holiday decoration in your home. After the holidays, the question of what to do with it arises, but don’t worry. There are several ways you can reuse and recycle your tree that are environmentally friendly and that will also make good use of it.

Branches can be cut off and laid in your garden to provide additional protection to your perennials and shrubs throughout the rest of the winter. Use these as a top dressing or mulch to cover plants that were installed within the last year. If the winter ends up being very cold or snowy, those plants will thank you for some extra help to survive the winter.

Use the branches to decorate a window box and add some winter color. Even though the holidays may have passed, it’s still nice to see an outdoor window box with some greenery in it for the winter time. Though many people think to fill their window boxes with colorful blooming flowers during the summer months, most neglect them once the growing season has passed. Keep the greens, remove the bows, but add some pinecones or natural berries such as juniper for festive, frosty, wintry look.

If you have a pond on your property, consider sinking a whole tree into a pond to provide habitat for fish. This will be especially helpful in the spring and summer when small hatchlings are looking for good places to hide!

Consider purchasing a chipper/shredder then chip it to use for winter mulch. This is an economical way to recycle all of the tree and add good organic matter back into your garden. If you do it soon, it will give the needles time to begin to compost before the summer growing season begins. A fresh layer of mulch is often a good idea to freshen winter weary paths and walkways in your garden too. Since the freshly shredded or chipped tree is often light in color, it provides a nice contrast to the dull mud-brown color.

Use your tree to provide winter cover for wild birds and food or protection from the cold for other critters. This is especially important if you only have deciduous trees in your yard which offer no shelter for the winter for birds and other wildlife. If you have a way to anchor it, decorate your tree with popcorn strings and edible ornaments to provide additional food for critters in your yard. Peanut butter, suet, and apples or berries all make wonderful edible ornaments. This is a fun activity to do with children on days when they aren’t able to be outdoors.

Remember those pesky needles? Use them too! Needles can be used in a sachet or potpourri indoors to keep that Christmassy smell alive and ward off the often stale odors in a closed-up home during the winter months.

After you’ve cut the branches off, use the trunk as a garden stake, as an edger for your garden or as a rustic trellis. You can also cut the trunk into small slices to make ornaments for next year’s tree or stack them to make rustic snowmen and other decorations. The possibilities for this are endless if you use your imagination!

If you are feeling a bit sad about having cut a tree for Christmas, please don’t. Not only are cut trees the traditional choice, but they provide a great backdrop for holiday photos and act as an umbrella for all of those Christmas gifts. Since these trees are grown sustainably just for the purpose of being cut for Christmas, there is no need to feel badly because in most cases new, young trees have already been planted to replace them. With so many possibilities, now is the time to be a good steward and recycle and reuse now that the season has passed.

Gail Vanik can be reached at 970-565-8274 or by email at fourseasons@animas.net.