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Garden Help Desk: Properly dispose of Christmas trees after the holidays

By Usu Extension garden Help Desk - | Dec 26, 2020

Question: I’ve heard it isn’t safe to burn a Christmas tree in my fireplace because of all the chemicals that get sprayed on the trees at trees. Can I hose off the tree and still burn it?

Answer: Conventionally grown Christmas trees could have been sprayed with insecticides or fungicides during the spring and summer growing season, but those sprays break down over the season with time and exposure to rain and sunlight.

That doesn’t mean it’s okay to burn your tree in your fireplace, though. Even trees from organic tree farms shouldn’t be used in fireplaces because creosote in your tree could create a fire hazard.

If you really want to enjoy a glowing Christmas tree fire, use the wood from your tree as kindling in an outdoor firepit.

There are plenty of other ways to use an old Christmas tree at the end of the holidays.

The simplest way to take care of an old Christmas tree is to take advantage of your city’s Christmas tree collection program. If your city doesn’t offer this service, you can haul your tree to the closest green waste facility.

You can put your old Christmas tree to work in your landscape. Chip the tree and use it as mulch in your flower and shrub beds or save the chippings to use as dry/brown material in your compost pile in the spring.

You could skip the chipping and use the tree branches as the base of a new compost pile. The branches will provide good aeration at the base of the pile and slowly break down while you add kitchen scraps and yard waste over the branches.

Branches from your tree could also provide good protective cover over tender young shrubs and perennials to reduce deer browsing.

The trunk of your old Christmas tree can be used as rustic edging along a walkway or at the edge of a shrub bed or cut into “stepping-stones” to use in your garden or flower beds.

If your property is large enough, you can lay the entire tree in an area away from your house to provide shelter for small wildlife or prop it up and “decorate” it as a natural bird feeding station.

Question: Where is the best place in my yard to plant the little pine tree I got as a gift? My friend says it’s something like a Northern Island pine.

Answer: Did the tree come in a pot with a decorative pot cover and maybe a few little ornaments? If it did, I suspect your little pine tree is actually a Norfolk Island pine, not a true pine but a species that is native to mild areas of the South Pacific.

The best place for your tree for the next several months is indoors where your home environment is closer to the temperatures of USDA Zones 10 and 11. Your little tree wouldn’t survive outdoors where our mid-autumn through mid-spring temperatures are just too cold for Norfolk Island pines.

Your tree can move outdoors in the early summer when the overnight temperatures stay above about 40 degrees. When we have warm days during the springtime, you can put your tree outside for a few hours as long as you don’t forget to bring it back inside before the temperature starts to drop in the evening.

The Norfolk Island pine can get quite large as it matures, but it should still make a nice potted plant for several years. Keep it where it can get very bright light or direct sunlight. Provide the tree with additional humidity, if possible.

Your tree will probably want to lean toward a window or other light source, so rotate the pot one-quarter turn every day or so to help it grow straight. Water deeply when the top of the soil feels dry. Never leave standing water in the pot cover, as these trees don’t tolerate wet soils.

Your Norfolk Island pine doesn’t need any fertilizer until you move it outdoors for the summer. Don’t fertilize during the fall and winter when your tree is indoors.

If you decide to keep your tree for a few years by moving it indoors every fall, choose the right spot for it outdoors. Normally Norfolk Island pines need full sun, but yours will benefit from bright, dappled shade during our hot summers.

Apply an acidifying fertilizer at one-fourth strength occasionally until late summer. Don’t forget to water as needed.


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