Saturday, December 27, 2014

16 Uses for your old Christmas Tree

Intro Picture

I sit here looking at our Christmas tree in all of its splendor, even though it is still very pretty, it looks a little sad. The gifts are gone, so the tree looks bare. It won't be long before we take the tree down, then I will have to decide what I am going to do with the tree. That got me wondering how many different things I could come up with to use the tree. Sound like a good idea?

Some of these suggestions are only for trees that have been harvested yourself. Many trees that are purchased from retailers have been sprayed with a flame retardant and some are even treated with a dye. I actually know an owner of a Christmas tree farm that colors all of his trees. He claims that he ran a test and the trees that were not dyed did not sell as well as the colored trees. Some of the suggestions I am going to make, I would only do if you know the tree has not been treated with anything.

Homestead or Functional Uses

Most of the ideas in this section everyone will be able to agree have a true function. The ideas in this section either provide food, improve the soil, warm the body, or provide habitat for beneficial critters. 

1. A Fish Habitat.

TRE Old Christmas Tree Image 1
I know I am not an artist, but you can understand from the picture.

 This is without any doubt the most common use for old live trees around here. There are nearly as many ways to do this as there are avid fisher people. If using in a pond you can just throw the old tree or better yet trees in the water, if on a river or stream (really anything with moving water) you can tie the tree/trees to a large stone or even concrete block. The weight acts as an anchor and keeps the habitat in place, so you have an underwater landmark where fish will congregate. I have seen people tie as many as 6 trees together to make a large area. The submerged trees give small fish a place of refuge to grow. Wherever there is small fish there are larger predator fish. Those predator fish are normally the ones we want to fish for. Again there are really three ways that are common to use an old Christmas tree as a fish habitat: 1) In a pond. Just throw it in and let it float where it may, 2) Using rope and a large stone or concrete block, tie the rope to the middle of the tree/trees and make sure that the length of rope you use causes the tree to float kinda in the middle of the water "as illustrated above" and 3) Stick the trunk of the tree down in a concrete block and nail or screw a board into the trunk on the bottom of the block, this will keep the tree upright. Using the third method some people will actually make small underwater forests. 

2. Bird and Small Animal Feeding Station

This is a really cute idea and one of the most simple. After you have taken off all of your decorations, just move the tree stand and all outside. After the tree is set up outside redecorate with bird feeders and edibles for the wild creatures. One of the easiest ways to decorate is to take pine cones, smear with peanut butter and roll in birdseed. Voila, cute, outdoorsy, all natural, decorations for the birds.

3. Bonfire Fodder

You know, I said the fish habitat was probably the most common use...I was wrong. This one is without any doubt the most common use for old Christmas trees around here. Only one problem; people do not see it as a use, they see this as getting rid of the tree and nothing more. 

If an evergreen is allowed to completely dry, they burn is a spectacular fashion. Hot and fast would be the best way to describe it. Around here most of the teenage boys have bonfires as often as they can. It can and I think should be used as a social event. Don't forget, after the fire has gone out you can use the ashes as a soil amendment.

4. Small Animal Habitat

I know we have already used a tree as a feeding station, but now we are going to do something a little different with it. Even if you have a small yard you can take the old tree and place it in a corner of your yard. Just lay it down. Rabbits, chipmunks and things like that will really appreciate the extra hiding place. It is really amazing how much life can take place inside a brush pile. As the tree naturally breaks down this will become the habitation of worms and other beneficial insects, not to mention there will be less going to the landfill. As you can see these ideas are good for everyone. 

The first four have used the tree in its entirety. Now we are going to start "parting" it out.

5. Chicken Roost

This one is fairly simple and can be used in conjunction with several of the other ways to use your old tree. This is a way you can use just the trunk and still have all of the branches to use for other things. Remove all of the branches and either tie or nail the trunk into place so the chickens can use it as a roost. This is beneficial in another way. Many people have said that you should not use something that is perfectly round for your chicken's roost, because it is not natural. Well, the trunk of a tree, turned to be more like a large limb is more natural than many of the things you could use. 

6. Mulch

If you are not too rural there could be a location close
 to you that will shred your Christmas tree for you. 

I could probably expand this one heading into at least 3, but I won't. If I did so it would be just to have a larger number in the title. 

There are a couple of different ways that your old Christmas tree can be used as mulch. First you could just strip off all of the needles and use them as a mulch. Doing this will create a fine lighter mulch and will work great on most if not all plants. Second,you could take all of the branches and shred them. This will create a heavier, but in my opinion a more well rounded mulch. 

There is some debate as to whether evergreen needles cause the soil to become more acidic. Some people swear that it is the truth and others say it is an old wive's tale. I cannot tell you which is right, I am not a chemist. I will tell you that if I have a mulch that is primarily evergreen, I will only use that mulch on acid loving plants. Berries of most kinds fall into this category. 

Chippers have gone up a lot in the past couple of years, but this is one of the tools that I do think a homestead of any size really should have around. We purchased one used a couple of years ago and have used it more than enough times to merit the purchase. Check at local pawn shops or even yard sales. Who knows, maybe you will get lucky. We have a small electric one similar to this one Factory-Reconditioned Sun Joe CJ601E-RM Chipper Joe 14 Amp Wood Chipper/Shredder

7. Garden Bed Protection

If you don't have a chipper or shredder and still want to use the Christmas tree in your garden there is still hope. If you have perennial or even raised garden beds you can just cut off all of the branches using either a set of pruning shears like these 50% OFF: ML Garden Tools Easy Cut Ratcheting Hand Pruners - 8" Ratchet Pruning Shears P8232  or a folding pruning saw like this one that I keep in my backpack Corona RS 7265 Razor Tooth Folding Pruning Saw, 10" Curved Blade. Once you have removed all of the branches place them all curved side up, so they are making sort of a little bitty tent. This will give your garden bed extra protection as we roll into what is normally the coldest part of our winter.

8. Compost

No matter what you do with your old live Christmas tree, it will eventually rot. Why not take advantage of this natural process? If you are concerned with soil pH you may not want to just shred your tree and place it straight on you garden beds. You can still use it as part of your compost pile. The cool thing about using a tree in your compost is there are lots of ways to do it. 

You could just leave the tree whole and pile things up around it. It will eventually break down and turn into really good soil. It will take a very long time, but hey there will be a lot less work involved. 

You could just cut off all of the branches and still use the trunk as the base of your compost pile. Mix in other leaves and kitchen scraps as well as herbivore manures so that no one type of substance dominates any area of the compost pile. This will create a smaller pile and will decompose quicker, but will still take some time. The trunk will still take a while, but not as long as the first example. The trunk will breakdown quicker because it will be in contact with all of the other goodies. In the first example the branches create a barrier to protect the trunk.

You could shred the branches and keep the trunk whole. This is what I have done in the past. I primarily did this because my shredder is small and I am not willing to rent a big one for one tree. Once again, I place the trunk on the bottom, mix the chips from the branches and needles with everything else I have and pile them on. I do like to leave one end of the trunk exposed. The reason I do this is so I can go out there and move the trunk around. I am allowing oxygen into the base of the pile. This causes decomposition to go even faster.

9. Animal Bedding

If you have a shredder you can use all of those chips as livestock bedding. Even if you don't, you can use the branches for bedding for larger animals, just add a little straw for comfort. The smell of the evergreen may even help keep insects out of the bedding area similar to cedar chips. Be aware some animals can have negative reactions to the fumes given off by evergreens especially cedars. Cedar should not be used with chickens.

10. Firewood

TRE 16 Uses image 3

I add this one with hesitation. The reason I hesitate is because all evergreens are heavy sap trees. This sap is quite flammable. Unless wood is allowed to dry or season properly a substance called creosote can build up inside your flue. This can be very dangerous and may pose a fire hazard. If you are going to use evergreens as a firewood, either use for a camp or outside fire or make sure that it has properly dried. Having said that, it does make a good firewood, it burns hot and fast. Not what you would want in the heater to burn overnight, but could be what you are looking for if you want a quick fire to knock out the morning chill. If done safely, there is no reason the tree that warmed your heart during the holidays can warm your body or your food the following year.

11. Dune Restoration

If you live close to the beach this is a use that I have seen several times. Just place the tree on the beach and let the wind and rain do their thing. Over a fairly short period of time the sand will pile up around the tree and create a brand new sand dune. Done properly this can provide some protection from tide swells.

Home Decor Ideas

12. Potpourri

I know, I have put something that really most would consider a luxury as a homestead or functional use. I believe that the sense of smell can have a lot to do with your attitude and well being and besides, I love the smell of evergreens. I love that smell anytime of year, but especially during the winter months. You can strip the needles off a couple of branches and wrap in tulle (Expo Classic Tulle Spool of 25-Yard, White) to make a sachet and tie with a nice ribbon. You can now how some of these scattered throughout your home the give you a nice sent. Yup I used tulle. You may be able to purchase tulle from a local sewing or craft store.

13. Drink Coaster

TRE 16 Uses Image 4

I actually really like this little project, but I will give you a warning a little later. If you have children and nice furniture, you know what leaving a sweating glass on a nice wood table can do. One of the things about being as self sustainable as possible is make everything last as long as possible. Drink coasters help keep your tables looking nice. 

Just take the trunk and cut 1 inch thick disks. Apply a liberal coat of spar varnish to protect the coaster and felt pads on the bottom help too. It is best to let the trunk completely dry before you cut your coasters. If it is still green at all when it drys it is very likely to split like the one you see below. 

14. Candle Holder

TRE 16 Uses Image 5

This one is just thrown together, but if you take your time they can be made to look very nice. I like this one. 

Cut the trunk to any length you want, make sure that when you sit it up that the top is level. Depending on what type of candle you are wanting you can drill a hole to allow the candle to sit down into. I like the rustic or should I say rural look and it helps keep the wax from getting to your furniture. I know there are drip free candles, but I have never made a candle at home that was a drip free. 

15. A Centerpiece

Photo used with Permission from
The diameter of the trunk can be a determining factor of your centerpiece. Your centerpiece can be cut in half like the one pictured above or just the whole trunk, just make sure that it will sit consistently. You can use any type of candle. I have seen one that uses tea candles which is much more like what I would like to make. After you figure out which side will make the best bottom and make sure that the piece will be stable, take a 1 1/2 inch paddle bit and drill holes where ever you want the tea candles to sit. This will allow them to be slightly recessed and I think makes for a nicer appearance. 

16. Pine Needle Tea

Pine and spruce follow the exact same rules. Cedar tea has slightly different rules. Make sure that any tree you use for this has not been treated with any chemicals. I would not suggest doing this with any bought tree. Take the needles and steep for between 15 and 30 minutes. Pine needle tea has a very strong flavor, but is a vitamin C powerhouse. Cedar tea is also a vitamin C giant and is produced the same way as pine needle tea; however, cedar oil is a oily layer that floats to the top of the tea. Cedar oil is toxic and should be poured off of the tea. 

FYI spruce needles can be eaten raw in a survival situation. 

There you go. 16 ways to use your old Christmas. I hope you enjoyed this. Please feel free to send us a message. If you have ideas for things you would like us to cover let us know.

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