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Recycling Christmas trees leaves mulch to be desired

Do Fish Grow on Trees?

If your Christmas tree is still shedding needles forlornly in your living room, or lying curbside hoping to magically vaporize, consider recycling it in your garden

• Evergreen needles make great mulch. Lay cut boughs on flower beds to protect plants from late spring frost or windburn.

• Stand the tree where it can provide winter food and shelter for birds. Hang bags of suet and seed-filled feeders from branches.

• Rent a chipper or go to earth, enter your zip code to find local tree pickup and drop-off programs. (Remove tinsel, plastic, metal, and other nonorganic materials.) Most municipal parks departments chip thousands of Christmas trees and other greenery every year for mulch and compost. In addition to saving landfill space, recycled trees provide soil nutrients and aromatic ground cover that reduces soil erosion and deters weed growth. Mulch and compost are frequently offered free to the public.

• Create a wildlife habitat. Lay tree in a corner of your yard to provide cover for birds, chipmunks, and other small animals. In spring, set it up in your garden as a trellis for peas, tomatoes, or beans.

• Think “balled-and-burlapped” when you purchase next year’s tree and replant the live, uncut tree after the holidays.

Creative use of trees abounds. A pharmaceutical company in Toronto made antiviral medicine (Tamiflu) from shikimic acid extracted from discarded Christmas tree needles to fight the bird flu pandemic. Packaging Corporation of America in Wisconsin uses ground up trees as boiler fuel to power their pulp and paper mill plant.

In many states, weighted bundled trees are dumped into fishing ponds to form reeflike habitats. In one experiment, biologists in the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game reported a fivefold increase in the number of fish caught around sunken Christmas trees compared to other places in a lake. The trees attract fish of all sizes. Small ones eat aquatic insects that set up shop in the branches. Fish populations attract predatory game fish, but also use branches to escape pursuit. The habitat provides a good place for fish to lay their eggs. Tree reefs last about seven years. As they decompose, they sprout carpets of algae providing more fish food. Lakeside discarded trees attract great blue herons, great egrets, cormorants and black-crowned night herons.

Storm ravaged coastal areas use Christmas tree fence corrals to rebuild dunes and restore the fragile ecosystem, spanning shallow open-water areas to improve wetland habitats by offering an effective wave-break to reduce marsh-edge and sand erosion; enhancing water clarity, thus allowing aquatic vegetation to reestablish.


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