One of the unfortunate aspects of having a live Christmas tree is that you will eventually need to dispose of it. The most common disposal method for old trees is to have them chipped into mulch however you may also use it as wildlife habitat.

There are many ways old trees can be used for habitat. If you have the space and want wildlife around (don’t deliberately attract raccoons and skunks unless you want raccoons and skunks!) brush piles are excellent for this purpose. Old trees can be weighted down and placed in ponds for fish habitat. You may also place the tree near an existing feeder to provide cover for birds.

Trees can also be decorated a second time with edible ornaments and placed in your landscape. Once you have removed anything which is not biodegradable, simply move your tree in its stand (provided your stand can handle outdoor conditions) outside. Then decorate your tree with edible ornaments for wildlife, particularly birds and squirrels, to feed on. Everything you use should be biodegradable, including cotton thread or string to hang ornaments with.

Pinecone ornaments are an excellent way to provide wildlife with food. Start with an old pinecone and wrap cotton string around the scales and loop an end so it can be hung. Then mix peanut butter with birdseed and spread it on the cone. Once you have the cone covered you can add layers by rolling it in birdseed or other materials such as oatmeal. You can create the same sort of decorations by using rice cakes. Punch a hole and run a string through it to hang from the tree. Then add various materials. You can use the peanut butter and birdseed mixture or you can add sliced, dried fruit and nuts.

Garland strings of popcorn and cranberries are a traditional favorite for birds. Buy a bag of fresh cranberries in the produce department. With a needle and thread, string four or five pieces of popcorn, then one cranberry for a colorful red and white pattern. You can also create garlands of salt-free crackers, raisins, grapes, cheerios, and other materials.

To attract squirrels, buy a bag of mixed nuts in the shell and drill a hole in them. Run your cotton string through the holes and hang them where you can enjoy watching squirrels grab and feed on them. Hang these individually on the tree rather than as a garland so squirrels can pull them down one at a time.

Various other materials may be hung from the tree including suet, plants with edible seeds, and netting material filled with birdseed.

Birds and squirrels need a lot of food to get through the winter so decorate heavily and be willing to put up new ornaments as they are consumed. Make sure the tree is secured so the wind doesn’t blow it over. As the tree will become fairly dry, don’t place it near your house or where it may be a fire hazard. As with a tree in your house, make sure ornaments are out of reach of pets. Your dog (or your neighbor’s) will enjoy a pinecone covered with peanut butter as much as a bird or a squirrel.

Obviously, before removing your tree from your home, undecorated it by taking all lights and ornaments off. Keep in mind that at the end of the winter you will still need to permanently dispose of your tree. And don’t wait too long to do this – you don’t want an enterprising robin or other bird to build a nest and lay eggs before you have a chance to remove the tree.

Curt Emanuel is the Boone County extension educator for agriculture and natural resources.

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