Homemade holiday habitat

christmas tree

The presents have been unwrapped; our waistbands may be a bit tighter than they were on the first of December, but with the New Year on the horizon comes the time for change and reflection. Most people pledge to be nicer and let the small things go, but I would wager that the most popular vow is to be healthier.

With all of these goals on my New Year’s docket, I wanted to challenge myself and others to not only think about their own health but also the health of the land around us. Lucky for us, with the end of the holidays coming up, most of our households have the perfect item to get started on creating a healthier environment, and no, I don’t mean that hideous article of clothing one of your distant relatives got you. I am talking about your Christmas tree. Real Christmas trees are a wonderful starting point to creating a habitat in your own backyard or pond.

Here are three ways to get started on your own:

Create a brush pile for wildlife

A widely underutilized way to reuse Christmas trees is by making brush piles out of them. When constructing your brush pile, make sure to place it away from the house and near existing thick cover to attract animals to use it. When you pick out your spot, lay the tree on its side and stack branches and limbs around it in a square arrangement until you have reached the height you desire. This will provide a small haven for a variety of birds and small mammals to live, hunt or hide. If you want to create a larger brush pile, multiple trees can be used in the same arrangement.

Create a haven for fish

Probably the most widely used application for reusing Christmas trees is creating habitat for fish. You can sink single or multiple trees by securing the trunk to something heavy like a cinder block. When putting them in water, make sure it is deep enough for the trees to be completely submerged. The branches and trunk can create complexity and structure to a lake or pond that was previously lacking. Branches can create hiding and feeding places for smaller fish and attract macroinvertebrates, which can then attract larger game fish.

Mulch it up

If you don’t have space or want to commit to either of the previous options mulching your tree is also a great alternative. The mulch can be used to prevent soil erosion, help treat compaction, retain moisture and add nutrients to the soil. You will need to either own borrow or rent a woodchipper for this application.

All these applications do require a bit of effort, but the outcome well outweighs the work. If you are unable to do any of these options listed above but still want to help, you can call your town and see if they do a tree pick-up. If that doesn’t work sometimes park districts or your county’s soil and water conservation district will have a tree donation program. I hope all of you have a happy, healthy and habitat-friendly 2024.


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