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Garden Help Desk: Christmas trees can be repurposed at the end of the holidays

By USU Extension - Special to the Daily Herald | Dec 30, 2023
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Planters made with evergreen boughs can also be repurposed at the end of the holiday season.
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If evergreen swag is repurposed and used in the landscape, it's important to remove any artificial or non-biodegradable decorations first.
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Adult fungus gnats can be annoying indoors, but they don't feed on houseplants. They are attracted to overly moist soil where they can lay their eggs, though.
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Fungus gnat larvae need consistently moist or wet soil to thrive. If the soil dries out, the larvae will die.

What is the most useful way to dispose of our Christmas tree? We don’t want to just cut it up and put it in a dumpster.

There are several ways to put an old Christmas tree to good use at the end of the holidays.

The simplest option for repurposing your old Christmas tree is to take advantage of your city’s Christmas tree collection program. Many cities collect, chip and compost the trees instead of adding them to a landfill. If your city doesn’t offer this service, you could haul your tree to the closest green waste facility. Here are a few more ideas for a Christmas tree after the holidays are over.

Put your old Christmas tree to work in your landscape. If you have access to a chipper, you can turn your tree into mulch for your flower and shrub beds, or you could save the chippings to use as dry/brown material in your compost pile next spring.

Instead of chipping the tree, you could use the 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 cut into lengths and used as rustic edging along a walkway or at the edge of a shrub bed, or the trunk can be 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 with apple slices, dried fruits, nuts, suet blocks, etc. A small water source by the tree would be a great way to complete your nature station.

Some people are tempted to use their old Christmas trees for firewood, but that can be a hazardous activity because creosote in your tree could create a fire hazard in a fireplace. If you really want to enjoy a glowing Christmas tree fire, use the wood from your tree as kindling in an outdoor firepit.

I’ve been finding tiny flies in our family room for the past few weeks. Is there a good way to get rid of them?

You might have fungus gnats. Are they thin, fragile-looking and dark colored? Do they seem a little unsteady while they fly and zigzag a little? If so, they are probably fungus gnats, a common problem with houseplants. If you got a poinsettia, Christmas cactus, cyclamen or amaryllis for the holiday season, there may have been a few fungus gnats in the soil that hitched a ride to your home.

Adult fungus gnats are annoying, but they won’t harm your plants. They lay eggs in potting soil, though, and their larvae can cause damage. The maggots are thin and light-colored or nearly translucent. They feed on fungi and decaying organic matter in the potting soil but will also feed on the crowns and roots of your plants, causing plants to grow poorly or decline.

If you don’t have any other plants in your home, you should stop seeing the gnats once you dispose of your holiday plants. But if you do have other house plants, or you plan to keep your holiday plants for a while, there are some things you can do to clear up the problem.

Fungus gnats must have consistently moist to wet soil to thrive, so the simplest and least expensive solution for fungus gnats in your home is to make sure the upper ½ to 1 inch of the soil dries out between waterings. Watering your plants deeply and infrequently is also the best practice for most houseplants, so don’t worry about causing any stress for your plants. Don’t water your plants until they need it. Once the upper soil feels dry, then water thoroughly. After you’ve given the soil a chance to drain, remove any water from the tray or saucer under the pot. Leaving the drainage water creates a high humidity breeding site for fungus gnats and also increases the risk of root rot for your houseplants. Your goal is to make sure there is never any excess moisture for the fungus gnats.

It will take a few weeks of drying out your potting soil between waterings to break the cycle of egg-laying, larvae and adult gnats. If you continue to see gnats after a month or more with your new watering habits, you can try using a natural, biological insecticide that contains Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Look for a product label that lists fungus gnats. You’ll need to use it as a soil drench, not as a spray, so the product reaches the larvae in the potting soil.


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