Christmas trees

C and J Christmas Trees sold out for the season after a busy Thanksgiving weekend; now, Watauga County Extension director Jim Hamilton offers tips to recycle all of those trees.

It’s Jan. 2, and you’re staring at it one last time. Three of the 17 glass balls the cat swatted to the floor are shattered prizes behind the skirt, deserving of a 2-hour tweezer session or a trip to urgent care.

A drop of water hasn’t been added to the stand in more than two weeks. The tree long-quit drinking it anyway. Depending on the species you selected, the entire symbology of Christmas now a lonely, forgotten skeleton in the corner of the room with an accumulating pile of needles that builds faster than can be dust-deviled.

The angel remains on high watch, casting blame and discord as her box still can’t be found — probably pitched with the rest of the cardboard. The magic of the season faded to swift memories of the morning mayhem of the week prior — shredded wrapping paper littering the floor and compliments on the sassy-cat imprinted pajamas, turtleneck sweaters, at least one 2020 meme-mug and the metallic whine of battery-powered vehicles revving their way into feet and furniture followed by a soundtrack of giggles. Despite the inevitable return to domestic routine, family tradition and the kids (or grandkids) have dictated that it has to stay up until after New Year’s.

While it may seem that this last vestige of the holiday season is treated with disregard, you can find solace knowing that most choices regarding the disposal of the once-fresh cut Christmas tree are sustainable ones. Environmentally friendly, even. Of the 30 million carbon-storing, oxygen-exhaling, farm-grown Christmas trees cut each year, most meet their end at the county landfill —chopped unceremoniously into mulch — one after the other. Out of sight, out of mind. In the neighborhoods where POA rules dictate that lawn refuse be bagged, trees are bundled into body-bag sized contractor plastic, knotted at the end and left on the curb next to the mailbox. The dried shreds of fir, pine and spruce do break down nicely, though. A fitting end and transformation into moisture-preserving compost and food for the microbes, gracing the hostas, peonies and boxwoods of the summer front-porch landscape beds.

Unlike the free-standing pre-lit green toilet brushes — or “artificial trees” as some refer them to — shoved into the attic to harbor dust and brown recluses until the following year, recycling your real tree can beget its own tradition and ritual.

If you live off a rural, no-trash-pick-up road in the mountains, you can simply drag the tree to its final resting place within the recesses of the forest just beyond the property line under the last tangle of rhododendron thicket. All evidence of your family’s holiday cheer tidily disposed of, creating new life and abundance for countless critters of the forest — hiding places for rabbits and chipmunks, the remaining needles providing bedding for the duration of our coldest months.

For the anti-recyclers, your tree perhaps fits into the fire pit, where it can wait until January’s first snow thick enough to create a worthy spectacle. While virtually flame-retardant when freshly cut and well-watered inside the house, a Fraser fir, the ‘Cadillac’ of all Christmas trees, with its fragrant needles and sturdy branches, makes an impressive post-holiday display once left to the elements for a few weeks. Just keep the hose connected or the fire-extinguisher handy — just in case.

Many choose the another approach to tree-recycling. Strategic placement of your defunct tree in a shady corner of a pond or lake creates excellent habitat and protection from predators for many fish species and future secret casting spots.

If you have a soft spot for the chickadees and cardinals that crowd the feeders on your back porch throughout the winter, you can keep the holiday cheer rolling into spring. Just slather a couple jars of Jif or Skippy over the tree’s brittle branches and dust it thoroughly with bird seed. Turns out when you tar and feather a 7-foot tree with 10-lb bags of Pennington’s, it’ll last until at least March.

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Dr. Jim Hamilton is the Watauga County Extension director. Cooperative Extension transforms science into everyday solutions for North Carolinians through programs and partnerships focused on agriculture and food, health and nutrition and 4-H youth development. The Watauga County Center is at 971 West King St., Boone, (828) 264-3061.

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