After days of walking past the vivifying lit boughs of your Christmas tree a realization has settled in, it is more than just pine pattern baldness. It is time for the tree to go.
Fortunately we drink artesian well water around these parts and your tree has options. Conveniently these options involve you. I shall be your guide on this journey of holiday tree disposal alternatives. Together we will brave the wilds of the internet, explore the tried-and-true and seek the advice of some local experts. Onward and upward!
We begin online, we search for truth with an engine. In California there exist tales of discarded trees at Quarry Lakes and Lake Havasu. In the Tualatin Valley, OR a chapter of Trout Unlimited uses donated trees to assist fish habitat in their annual Christmas for Coho event. Just outside of Chicago old trees are used at Baker’s Lake for bird nesting habitat. We even find evidence of habitat building projects in New York City. Hey, can we use our trees in some of the many lakes, rivers and coastal waters of our region? Hold up! The internet is not always full of quality decision making information – we should investigate farther.
I sent an email to the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The response I received is so excellent and to-the-point that I will quote almost all of it as a learning aid. Shannon Soto, Aquatic Land Manager for DNR, “(t)hank you for your inquiry…it is illegal to place Christmas trees in these water bodies without permit. Permission is required from the following agencies before trees can be disposed of in any water body. Washington State Dept. of Natural Resources, Washington State Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, Washington State Dept. of Ecology, US Army Corp. of Engineers and the Local County or City where the water body is located.”
Ranger Michael Schramm at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge provides the cautious rationale behind such a law. “Bringing in anything external typically has a high, sometimes unforeseeable, impact:everything from the direct impact of vehicles or human feet on vegetation and soils, to more subtle issues. There may be a disruption to the various local creatures’ mating or child-rearing process.” I feel like Bart Simpson at the blackboard, “I will try not to create more problems with my good intentions.”
Thankfully we have some established local traditions for treecycling. The folks at Thurston County Solid Waste maintain an updating list and they are helpful when you ask questions.
We can use our trees in our own yards. Trees may be used as a border for a path, a post for raspberry containment or even as a trellis for an annual climbing plant. (Start getting excited about early spring planting, the darkest days are in the past!) Have you considered additional signage around your property? Let your tree help guests find their way. Mount a solar lamp onto its top. Try your hand at recycled tree sculpture. What would Alexander Calder do with a yard and a Tannenbaum?
If you would like to use the branches as a winter blanket for the plants in your yarden, Cori Carlton, Master Gardener and Composter with the WSU Thurston County Master Gardeners and Composters reminds us that “conifer needles are acidic, and may negatively affect plants that favor alkaline soil.” On the bright side Gardener Carlton goes on to say, “acid loving plants (those with a pH of 4.5 to 5.5) will benefit from conifer needle mulch, this includes blueberries, cranberries, rhododendrons, and azaleas.”
I also asked her about using a Christmas tree in a hugelkultur bed, “it would depend on when you want to build your hugelkultur bed. If you want to build your bed in spring then I would cut it up right away and let it rest until you are ready to build. Or if you don’t plan on building your bed till fall then leave it whole and cut it up in spring and let it rest over the summer.” Two snaps for Cori Carlton and the WSU Extension Program.
Tree farewells can make a fine excuse to gather with neighbors and friends. You can throw a neighborhood mulching party! Lew Rents is one local option to rent a wood chipper at intervals of two hours, four hours and all day. Tristan Woodsmith of Fungi Perfecti recommends “to chip or shred the wood into 1-4″ chips and inoculate with an aggressive decomposer” like the stropharia rugosoannulata. (Fungi Perfecti sells a kit.) In addition to being completely edible (some say delicious) this mushroom is documented preying upon the nematode Bursaphelenchus xylophilus. This is like an action movie in your own yard. Thinking about my Solstice tree feeding a network of ruthless mycological hunters as they root out a pine tree killer plus its fruit is edible and tasty? What awesomeness is this world we live in?! Just do not mix the spores with cedar, Tristan tells me it is anti-fungal.
The moral of the story? If you live in Thurston County (or some similar land far away) and you are in the market for tree disposal alternatives look first at home, then check in with the neighbors and then, with a critical eye, peruse the internet.
Remember to check with Thurston County Solid Waste for the most up-to-date information about where to take your tree if you would like to participate in an established community recycling program.
Happy post-Holidays Thurston County. I look forward to hearing about your tree adventures.