Twelfth Night – Time to Recycle the Tree

As a general rule, recycling the tree starts being an issue after the holiday, when a use must be found for a large, suddenly useless dead conifer. But this year we had a large dead conifer well before Christmas, thanks to the Halloween snowstorm that toppled the 15 foot arbor vitae in the southeast corner of the back yard.

Christmas tree with bird ornaments

Our holiday tree, 2011, aka the top of the former arborvitae. There’s a bucket of water inside the pedestal.

Putting it up was extremely easy; taking it down wasn’t much  harder and now we have the same pile of long branches anyone with a regular tree will have as soon as they saw them from the trunk, first step in successful home recycling.

Some will argue deconstruction is unnecessary; you can simply recycle the tree by setting it up outdoors, replacing the human-centric ornaments with items of interest to birds: cut oranges, a feeder or two, that cute bell made from suet and encrusted with seeds you got from the office gift-swap.

Well, yes, but myself I’d rather use cut boughs to mulch the perennial beds, evergreen boughs being just about ideal for this purpose: They hold in the cold without matting down and they’re quick and easy to remove in spring without harming tender emerging shoots.

That’s right, hold in the cold. There are some instances where the object is to hold in warmth – such as when you’re trying to protect the fig tree.

evergreen boughs used as mulch

Wrapped fig tree surrounded by bagged leaves, further insulated by a large pile of hemlock boughs

But most of the time what the mulch is doing is keeping the surface frozen, so you don’t get repeated thaws and freezes between January and April. “Frost heave” doesn’t just happen to roadbeds. Even when plants stay put, delicate feeder roots right near the surface are often damaged by soil that expands and contracts like an accordion.

The beds in Maine take a lot of boughs, so each year Kristi goes scavenging right about now, looking for raw material. Being well out in the country, she has to work at it. But in towns that offer municipal pick up there’s a bounty of useful material conveniently located right next to the curb.

bouquet of evergreen branches by the back door

Alternate use for evergreen branches: back door decor. Former “tree” makes a good anchor; saved up shrub and hedge prunings add variety.

Beds already all cozy – or non-existent? Consider the outdoor arrangement. In cold climates cut evergreens will stay fresh looking right through the entire Carnival season (Epiphany to Mardi Gras).

Added benefit of tree-in-tall pot: this is actually the first tree we’ve had in several years, feline depredations having finally discouraged me from even trying. But it looks like a combination of cat maturity and – comparative – tree inaccessibility is a winning one.

 cat and Christmas tree

It's not that he COULDN'T jump; even fat as he is that's an easy distance. But as long as nothing moves he's not that interested.

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1 Comment »

  • Susan Scheid Said,

    When I saw your tree, I immediately thought–that’s the ticket for cat-proofing! (Though the reason you had this tree we none of us want to be repeated, I’m sure.) Interesting to be reminded that the purpose of winter mulch is to keep the ground frozen–of course that would make sense.

    Meanwhile, today for some reason, I’m daydreaming about all sorts of delectable, not to mention elegantly decorated, holiday cookies–as well as a myriad other gustatory delights, all shared in the most excellent of company. Thank you for including us in a wonderful Twelfth Night.

    Needless to say, more than welcome!…and stay tuned for the King Cake recipe. Cat-wise, I think I’ll make a request that you do a post on cats-in-art. Your glancing mention and great image from the recent show at the Met ( is a real appetite-whetter.

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