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Recycle Christmas trees to benefit gardens, lakes
By Bethany Waldrop Keiper
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Give Christmas trees a second chance to be useful after the lights and tinsel are gone.
Finding uses for discarded Christmas trees is a tradition with its roots in 16th century Europe, said Steve Dicke, forestry specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service.
"European traditions of reusing Christmas trees began with the first Christmas tree about 475 years ago," Dicke said. "Recycling is still important today because many of our landfills will not accept Christmas trees as trash. Fortunately, Christmas trees are very easy to recycle."
In Europe, trees were originally burned the evening of Epiphany, a celebration of the wise men's visit to Bethlehem. The fire was to remind families of the bright Christmas star that guided the wise men to the city.
"If you would like to burn your tree, do it safely outdoors, not in a fireplace. Also be aware that the new species of trees grown in Mississippi are designed not to burn easily," the forester said. "Another tradition was to rough hew the stem of a Christmas tree to form a cross. This rough cross was displayed during Lent and tied together the holidays of Christmas and Easter."
Many communities in Mississippi participate in Christmas tree recycling. Drop-off points or curbside pickup service are available in many areas. Most of these Christmas trees are chipped up for mulch, which may be used for public landscaping projects or made available for homeowner use.
"Other Christmas tree recycling projects include lake, river and beachfront stabilization and Delta sedimentation management," Dicke said. "County Extension agents have information on Christmas tree recycling programs in their counties."
The same tree that provides hours of holiday enjoyment also can provide both a comfort zone for fish and a lucky spot for anglers.
Using Christmas trees as habitat enhancers and fish attractors is an old trick that has gained newfound popularity, said Marty Brunson, Extension pond management specialist at MSU.
"When the trees are grouped and placed correctly in a pond or lake, they create shade and hiding spots for fish," Brunson explained. "The grouped trees serve the same purpose as shade trees in the summer for cattle -- the fish will be grouped around these spots."
Tie several discarded trees together in loose groups of two to four for best results. Be sure to remove all traces of ornaments, hooks and tinsel from the trees.
"A single tree is good, but more are better, providing spaces for fish to congregate. Let your neighbors know that you will take care of their discarded trees," Brunson said. "The Christmas trees should be weighted so they will stay in place. Weights can either be tied on or trees can be set in a bucket of cement."
Place these fish attractors in three to 10 feet of water. Be sure to place attractors at different depths in the pond to ensure that as seasons and temperatures change, the fish will continue to use them. Too many attractors will cause fish to scatter, so limit the number to one or two per acre of water.
Safety is an important concern when placing the bulky attractors. The buddy system is best when taking a boat out into chilly ponds or lakes.
"Be safe -- life jackets and cold weather gear are a must. Even 40 degree water can be lethal in a short time," Brunson said. "Have a couple of partners -- one in the boat and one on the bank. This is important any time of year, but especially important in winter."
Fish attractors are great additions to your own ponds, but may not be welcome in other bodies of water.
"Do not put attractors into public water. Some lakes have restrictions against such activity," Brunson said. "Check with local lake managers such as the state Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; they often will accept donated trees and install them as a public service. Collecting trees for donation to management agencies is a good holiday project for youth groups, hunting and fishing clubs or church or civic groups."
According to recent state crop reports, there are about 150 Mississippi Christmas tree farmers. About half of Mississippi homes with Christmas trees use real, living trees. Of the people with live trees, 30 to 40 percent purchase Mississippi-grown trees.
For more information about recycling Christmas trees, contact local county Extension agents.