By: Greg Barton, Marion County Forester, Florida Forest Service
The presents have been opened, the cookies eaten, the parties attended, the eggnog is gone, and the in-laws have headed back home. Sooner or later the decorations will have to come down. Almost everything gets boxed up and stored in the attic or closet. But for many of us, one of our last chores will be to say goodbye to our once-fresh Christmas tree.
Hopefully we have done a consistent job of keeping water in the stand. A word of caution – as it gets further from the time we first brought our fresh tree home, the ability of the tree to draw up water diminishes. It may even stop completely, especially if we have allowed the stand to run dry on occasion. Somehow, after Christmas day passes, it’s easier to forget about maintaining the water level. If we leave our tree up for an extended time, we may want to be careful about how often we turn on the lights. Every year there are stories of Christmas trees that have caught fire. Well-hydrated trees are far safer, so if we know the tree isn’t “drinking” anymore don’t leave it unattended with the lights lit.
Below are a couple of suggestions to help out with this final task. One is for a practical and enjoyable re-purposing of the tree, and the other is a way to ease the process of getting the tree out of the house.
Re-purpose Your Tree
For a useful afterlife, your tree can become a bird feeding station. Place the Christmas tree in the garden or yard and use it as a bird feeder and sanctuary. Fresh orange slices or strung popcorn will attract the birds and they can sit in the branches for shelter. (Make sure all decorations, hooks, garland and tinsel strands are removed). Peanut butter and bird seed covered pine cones can also be hung on the barren branches. In the winter months, even in Florida, local food supplies for the birds can be limited. This is a way to attract some of the winter residents to our yard for viewing.
Minimizing the Mess
One of the messiest parts of taking down the decorations is getting the tree out of the house. The trail of fallen needles is inevitable as it is carried across the floor and thru the narrow doorways. Here is an idea to help minimize the mess and package the tree up conveniently for transport.
Simple hand pruning clippers can be used to cut off the outer branches. On many species of trees, the vast majority of needles are on the exterior – once you cut in about a foot toward the trunk there really aren’t many left. These cut branches can fit easily into a bag. In less time than it would take to haul the entire tree out and then cleanup the trail, you can have the branches packed up and ready to go. The main stem is now much easier (and cleaner) to carry out the door. You may even discover that one last forgotten ornament, (or in my case, a cat!) hidden on the back side of the tree!
In Marion County, trees can be disposed of at the yard waste sections of the many waste disposal/recycling centers. All decorations – lights and tinsel included – must be removed from the tree since yard material is usually mulched. Other areas will have different rules, but nowadays, almost all communities have some means of recycling trees. Ask your local solid waste office if you are not sure what they do.
Greg Barton is with the Florida Forest Service, and has been the Marion County Forester for over 19 years.