Published on 01/05/99

Thicket a Natural Choice for Dead Christmas Tree

The carols have all been sung. The ornaments have long been safely packed away. That dead Christmas tree, though, can provide one last benefit from the holidays, says a University of Georgia scientist.

"The big question is what not to do with it," said Jeff Jackson, an Extension Service wildlife scientist with the UGA Warnell School of Forest Resources. "What you don't want to do is take it to the curb."

Jackson said this annual spent-tree problem is a golden opportunity to look at your yard philosophy.

"What is a Christmas tree anyway that your yard doesn't have already?" he asked. "If you had a yard full of Christmas trees, putting out this new one wouldn't make any difference.

"If you have some nice areas of dense thicket, you could put the tree in there and let it decompose," he said. "Then it could do its thing for the environment, as opposed to taking it to the curb."

A decomposing Christmas tree could provide valuable food for insects and worms, as well as a good hiding place for birds and other creatures.

If you're like most people, though, you had only that single dead tree in an otherwise tidy yard.

"Most people have yards where they've declared war on thicket cover," Jackson said. "They get a nice, woody lot, keep all the big trees and get rid of all the small stuff."

But the small stuff is what the wildlife likes. "You can't get wildlife back with one thing - not even a dead Christmas tree," he said.

Some people try to lure wildlife by putting food on the Christmas tree when they discard it.

"Food on a dry Christmas tree is no better than food put somewhere else, like a bird feeder or an existing thicket," Jackson said. "The food and the tree don't have to go together."

That old Christmas tree can remind you of better ways to take care of wildlife, Jackson said. Here's how he'd do it.

"I would create an area of untidy thicket where little birds, like cardinals and white-throated sparrows, could go and be happy and comfortable rather than just sitting on the grass," he said.

"It's a way to save time, effort and money in yard work," he said. "Instead of taking that tree to the curb, put it there with other branches and yard wastes that don't have to be taken away. It contributes to a wildlife habitat."

It also contributes to the environment.

"You're recycling it," Jackson said. "This wonderful, decorative ornament that has turned into garbage can be turned into humus."

Another suggestion is to sink that leftover Christmas tree in a pond for fish to hang out in. Anchor it in a large coffee can with concrete. The concrete weights the tree down so it stands upright on the bottom.

These natural fish attractors draw bream and bass into the area and offer a safe haven for young fish. For safety, though, put the tree away from swimming areas.

You could chip the tree, too, for mulch you can use in your landscape or stuff a bed for a pet.

Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.