Don’t put your Christmas tree in the compost. I explain why in my book, “The Best of Green Space: 30 Years of Composted Columns,” which incidentally makes a great Christmas present, especially for friends who are fortunate enough to live outside my readership area.
Best of all, Amazon will ship it direct so that (1) you don’t have that chore and (2) if you send it without a gift card, your friends won’t know who to blame. Sorry, but my publisher’s contract requires me to mention this once a year.
I could explain quickly why you shouldn’t compost your Christmas tree, but I prefer to leave you burning with curiosity. But I was thinking about it during the recent brief warm spell.
Like everyone, I had to get outside, maybe gather up leaves left unmolested for weeks. But my favorite compost frame (ahem --as descried in the book) was full but because of the cold not yet shrinking. It wasn’t ready to take the frame off.
So I did what I have suggested before but never needed to do myself. I bought a length of plastic chicken fencing, three feet tall and 25 feet long, which is the shortest length I could find at Lowes. I cut it to half its length, formed it into a circle, tied the ends together – a 10-minute job – and started dumping leaves into it, along with some lingering garden residue.
The plastic chicken wire cost $16 and will make two neat compost piles. And they work better than the way overpriced store-bought composters, even better than the classic three bay system you have been meaning to build for years and haven’t quite gotten to yet. If you were thinking of getting a loved one a pricey catalog composter for Christmas, don’t. Get some chicken wire and use the money you saved to buy jewelry. You’ll thank me.
Maybe you got one of those trendy living Christmas trees. They should be called living-for-now Christmas trees. There are ways to increase their chances for survival, none of which involve putting the pot outside in January. A tree that is hardy in the ground is not necessarily hardy in a pot outside in freezing weather.
Your first job right now is to go out and dig a hole for it before the ground freezes completely. Mulch it deep and wide to keep it from freezing in weather you know is coming. After the holidays, move your tree to a colder but not frigid spot, like a garage. Only Finns like to go from a steam bath to a romp in the snow. Trees want a more gradual transition. Keep it watered lightly and plant it out in the prepared hole in early spring. Keep the mulch.
There are things to do with old style, living dead Christmas trees, which I detail in … well, you know … but I’ll synopsize them here.
You can prop it up by your bird feeder. Birds like a place to shelter between noshes. If you think ahead, you might want to make a trunk-sized hole now to stick it in, but in many cases that isn’t necessary.
You can cut the branches off and use them as a loose mulch, particularly for shrubs and perennials that were just planted during the past season. January is not too late for this. The point of a winter mulch is to keep the ground cold, not warm. New root systems can be damaged by the freeze/thaw cycle of early spring. A few branches over the plant prevents that without smothering the crown. Or you can stick them in a window box, not quite the display of summer but better than nothing.
After decades of tromping out to bag a feral tree, I finally gave in and got a plastic tree. No tromping, no recycling, Just laboriously hauling the thing down from the attic and trying to remember how to assemble it, then hauling it back into the attic instead of tossing it out the back door for the birds. They are already giving me dirty looks.
Duane Campbell is a nationally known agricultural expert. He can be reached at R6, Box 6029, Towanda, PA, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org