Instead of letting your Christmas tree take up space in a landfill this year, state natural resources officials suggest sinking it, beaching it, mulching it or piling it up for wildlife.
In rural areas, discarded Christmas trees can be put to good use as erosion control or as brush piles to provide resting and escape cover for small animals. In addition to benefiting small game such as quail and rabbits, brush piles constructed of Christmas trees can help birds such as sparrows, towhees and wrens.
"We're getting to the time of year when the leaves are off, and evergreen cover is a pretty important part of a total wildlife management plan," said Lex Glover, wildlife biologist with the Wildlife Section of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR). "Even though the needles of old Christmas trees will brown and fall off in two or three months, if you get enough trees piled up they will make pretty good cover."
Brush piles are usually mound or teepee shaped, Glover said, with the largest material forming the base and layers of small limbs and branches added as filler. The base should consist of sturdy trunks or limbs to allow adequate escape entrances at ground level.
Fisheries biologists with the DNR Freshwater Fisheries Section use discarded Christmas trees to maintain many fish attractor sites, which are clearly marked by buoys, at all major reservoirs in South Carolina. Many sites are being converted to permanent PVC units that do not require yearly maintenance; however, the majority of fish attractors still require an occasional addition of brush and Christmas trees that provide an excellent source of material.
Once on the lake bottom, Christmas trees and other suitable materials provide a surface where small aquatic plants grow. These plants in turn attract aquatic organisms and small fish that are fed upon by larger fish.
To learn where to deliver your tree so it can be used as a fish attractor, contact the nearest DNR regional office: in Columbia, (803) 734-3886; in Florence; (843) 661-4766; in Clemson, (864) 654-1671; or in Charleston, (843) 953-9300. Please do not toss discarded trees on state fish attraction areas. Deliver the tree to designated offices, and state natural resources personnel will replenish sites as needed.
Another alternative is grinding up your tree to use as mulch. Local Keep America Beautiful committees and some state parks offer tree grinding at no charge after the holidays. Those who choose to take their mulch home can use it for flowerbeds, gardens or around trees and shrubs. For more information, call the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) recycling hotline at (800) 768-7348.
Perhaps the best kind of recycling is to buy a live tree and replant it, and then the tree can provide evergreen cover for wildlife year-round. Consumers should keep in mind, however, that many kinds of popular Christmas trees will not survive the hot and humid South Carolina summers.
Among the species that will likely live and prosper here are: Virginia pine, Scotch pine, sand pine, spruce pine, Eastern red cedar, white cedar, Leyland cypress and white pine, which does best in the mountains and upper Piedmont. Two varieties of Arizona smooth cypress developed in South Carolina, Clemson Greenspire and Carolina Sapphire, will also grow well in our climate. Tree species that may not survive here, except in our mountains and foothills, include Carolina and Eastern hemlocks, Colorado blue spruce, Douglas fir, Fraser fir and balsam fir.