Home & Garden: Ways to recycle your Christmas tree
Free Press Gardening Columnist
The Christmas tree industry is a major business — from boxed trees delivered to your doorstep to wreaths and ropes of boughs. Christmas trees are the symbol of the festive season with a real tree being a “must” for many North American families. The demand for trees is great, and so is the need to determine what to do with these millions of trees after the holidays are over.
Instead of sending your Christmas tree to the landfill where it takes up much needed space, why not cut off the boughs and lay them over strawberry beds and perennial flower beds. The boughs will help retain moisture and reduce frost heaving and resulting root tearing. Boughs of evergreens also can be used over compost piles to help retain heat, allowing the compost to continue working during the winter. By spring many of the needles will have dropped and the resulting bare branch will be easier to cut up and run through a chipper. The remaining trunk should be dropped off at a Christmas tree collection site for chipping.
Grand Junction’s Forestry Department usually has a Christmas tree drop-off site at the City Shops Facility (2549 River Road) for those of you who don’t want to add to the landfill. If they repeat this project again this year, please consider taking advantage of this opportunity.
The chips resulting from ground-up Christmas trees can be applied as mulch and added to garden areas in anticipation of being spaded in next spring. This recommendation often brings up the concern of turpentine and other plant-produced substances and their alleged toxicity to plants. Trees, like other plants, manufacture numerous chemicals for protection against insects and disease organisms. Some of these materials provide positive benefits to plants. The addition of bark to a planting mix to help reduce certain root-rot problems is just one example. Turpentine and other such substances do not appear to be a problem. The carbon-nitrogen ratio (c:n) of the material added to the soil, however, is a problem.
Plants require a certain quantity of soil nitrogen to thrive. When organic matter is added to soil, microbes convert the carbon to carbon dioxide and use energy and various molecules and nutrients released in the decomposition process for their own microbial development. This process requires nitrogen. If insufficient nitrogen is available in the organic matter being decomposed, the microbes remove nitrogen from the soil thereby reducing the nitrogen available for plant growth. This results in chlorotic, stunted plants. Adding nitrogen to counteract this deficiency is often necessary when adding bark or wood chips to soil. This helps ensure sufficient nitrogen is available for both microbe and plant. Nitrogen applications should not be necessary until spring.
Free Press columnist Dr. Curtis E. Swift is a retired horticulture agent with the Colorado State University Extension. Reach him at Curtis.Swift@alumni.colostate.edu, 970-778-7866 or check out his blog at http://SwiftsGardeningBlog.blogspot.com. He owns Swift Horticultural Consulting and High Altitude Lavender.
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