Give your Christmas tree a second life

Spread year-round holiday cheer to backyard wildlife

It’s the time of year when communities are buzzing with holiday cheer, people begin to decorate their homes and consider getting a Christmas tree. If you’d like to prolong the holiday spirit and share the gift of giving with wildlife, then the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has a suggestion. This year, instead of bringing your old Christmas tree to the curb, the not-for-profit, private land conservation group suggests putting it in your own backyard.

Dan Kraus, NCC’s senior conservation biologist, says leaving it in your backyard over the winter can provide many benefits for backyard wildlife. Your tree can provide important habitat for bird populations during the winter months, especially on cold nights and during storms.

The first step in letting nature help you recycle your Christmas tree is to put it anywhere in the backyard. Prop it up near another tree, against a fence or lay it in your garden. You can even get the family involved by redecorating it with pine cones filled with peanut butter, strings of peanuts and suet for birds to enjoy. These delicious decorations will provide food for birds while they find shelter in the tree.

“Evergreens offer a safe place for birds to rest while they visit your feeder,” says Kraus. “Another benefit is that if you leave the tree in your garden over the summer, it will continue to provide habitat for wildlife and improve your soil as it decomposes.”

By spring, the tree will have lost most of its needles, resembling a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Simply cut the tree branches, lay them where spring flowers are starting to emerge in your garden and place the trunk on soil, but not on top of the flowers.

Kraus says the tree branches and trunk can provide habitat, shelter wildflowers, hold moisture and help build the soil, mimicking what happens with dead trees and branches in a forest. Toads will seek shelter under the log, and insects, including pollinators such as carpenter bees, will burrow into the wood.

“By fall, the branches and trunk will begin to decompose and turn into soil,” says Kraus. “Many of our Christmas trees, particularly spruce and balsam fir, have very low rot resistance and break down quickly when exposed to the elements. The more contact the cut branches and trunk have with the ground, the quicker it will decompose. Drilling holes in the tree trunk will speed up that process.

Our backyards are ecosystems of their own and provide an opportunity to learn about forest ecology. By leaving our Christmas tree in our backyard, we can understand its life cycle and observe its impact on backyard biodiversity.

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