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Think about recycling trees

Already the Christmas trees are going out on the street, their decorating jobs done. But this year, more than ever before, we can use them in much better ways. The region doesn't need more trees to chip up. Since the October storm we have quite enough mulch. And we have a lot of vacancies to fill.

>Temps wanted

Many landscapes have holes in them -- mostly large trees now missing but also small trees and large shrubs that were smashed. Many of those trees and shrubs blocked the wind and acted as snow fences, placing the snowdrifts off the driveway or walk. Others provided a barrier near the house as foundation plants, buffering the wind and creating insulating air pockets near your walls. You used some trees to hold the bird feeders. Other plants provided roosting places and shelter from the harsh weather -- very important for the comfort and health of some birds. Now, some of the plants that did some of these jobs are missing.

>How to reuse your tree

There are a few differences in your approach, whether you live in the country, suburbs or city, but in all cases you can reuse that Christmas tree. Maybe you will take some of your neighbors' too -- as I will, gathering all the extras I can. Here are some uses:

* Stand them up: In years when we have deep snow, I stick the trees upright and form wind blocks, or use them to hang suet and other bird treats. You can even leave the stand on the tree, and refill it once in awhile if we aren't in a hard freeze -- a way to slow down the needle drop. (This method could wreck some tree stands, if the water freezes and cracks them.) A better choice might be to stick the tree in a large bucket of water, using one that is expendable if it cracks. This upright tree position might only last until the next windstorm, depending upon how you stabilize the tree, but if you place several trees this way you can form a great windbreak or shelter the bird feeding station.

* Cut them up: Regular readers know I advocate mulching the garden or landscape beds, ideally after the ground freezes. In this odd year, we have very soggy soil going into January and some of us held back on mulching. Cut-off conifer branches are perfect mulch and will temper the extreme temperature fluctuations that often cause plants to heave out of the soil. In a city home I suggest you put the branches around the shrubs and perennials; the needles will be good for the soil. You can remove bare branches in spring.

* Pile them: In the country, some of you have room to accept some extra post-Christmas bounty, as I will. The critters need brush piles, hedgerows, more places to hide, roost or mate. Decomposing trees contribute to the soil over time. If you can, mound the trees, make rows of them, or use them as the ideal base for brush piles. This is not littering. It is nature's recycling. Then we can sing the best carol: "Oh Christmas Tree!" and say thank you.

Sally Cunningham is a garden writer and former Cornell Extension educator.

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