It’s over.


Most people in the country are doing one of four things right now.

① Breathing a sigh of relief.

② Wondering where December went.

③ Feeling a bit nostalgic and determined to keep the spirit of the season going.

④ Grinning at the fact that they don’t have a mess to clean up because they never made one in the first place.

If you mentally checked off one of the first three things on that list, you DO have a mess to clean up, and it usually starts with a Christmas tree.

The tradition of The Christmas Tree

My family has cut a tree every year since we’ve had children old enough to whine about the cold and how hungry they are; and although this is a wonderful family tradition (“Enjoy yourself dammit!  Stop fighting and pay attention! Did David just fall down a hole?” etc. etc.) – it does leave us with an expensive bit of over-large floral greenery at the end of the season.

And I hate waste.


Ghosts of Christmas Past.


Yes I know we could dig our tree, stand it in a galvanized bucket at a 25 degree tilt, plant it in a too-small hole at a 30 degree tilt, and enjoy herniated disks over a hot toddy, but fortunately I’ve got friends who have modeled that behavior for me over the years and we’re good.

I also know I could buy a ridiculously expensive pre-lit tree and enjoy five years of asset amortization until the first lights started flickering (the bad way) and the landfill began to call.  Again, we’re good.

The dilemma of the Christmas Tree

Our porch tree – decorated for the enjoyment of wildlife AND humans over the winter months.

So you’ve got this tree.  The season is now over, and what was beautiful and festive is now a haunting reminder of how much money you’re willing to spend when hopped up on chocolate and cranberry martinis.  You need it out of the house as soon as possible.

I get it.

Certainly you can go about this in a very First World Somebody-Else’s-Problem kind of way – i.e. open the door on Boxing Day and throw tree, lights and tinsel to the curb.   But you risk neighborhood joggers like me judging you harshly in the early morning hours

(Lights as well? Seriously?)

…and the confusion of your kids who thought you loved the Christmas tree they picked out with little gloved fingers.  (Not to mention your love of the environment, over which you will not stop nagging them.)

Wouldn’t it be better to use that tree in a different way and show your kids and judgmental neighborhood joggers that Christmas hasn’t really become the number one holiday for a shallow, consumer culture driven by a never-ending desire to acquire, consume and discard, and is over the minute the wrapping paper hits the floor?

Yes, Virginia.  Yes it would be.

So come on. Reach down to the very core of your being, grab the last ounce of holiday energy you’ve got, and let’s give that tree a dignified exit out of this world.

Let’s create a Wildlife Tree.

The transformation of The Christmas Tree


To create a tree that feeds birds and other small creatures throughout the winter months.


Very good.  It’s not difficult and gives you a great chance to spend time with your family on a Saturday afternoon.

I am of course assuming you want to.


●  Undress your tree of its ornaments, garlands and tinsel.  If you lose needles, don’t worry, it’s about the framework, not the tree.

●  If you wish to leave lights on (and they are rated for outdoor use) do so.

●  Take your tree outside, stand and all.

●  Find a good, not-so-windy spot to place it that fulfills the following criteria:

– Birds will find it.

– Judgmental neighborhood joggers will see it.

– It will make you smile when you see it from the window or pass it on the way into the house.

●  Use bags of sand to weigh down the stand against wind.

●  Do not fill the stand with water.  It’s 14 degrees outside, all water is frozen and we both know that the tree stopped taking up water the first time you let the stand go dry three weeks ago.  It is an ex-tree.  Let it go.


The fun begins.  No really.  It does.



●  Take your child’s phone away.

● Take your phone away.

●  Those leftover bags of cranberries you never strung – find a child, give them a few minutes instruction and have them make a garland with button or quilting thread.

●  Pop some popcorn, and just as your child reaches for it, tell them the birds come first and hand them a needle and thread.  And a little popcorn.  I’m not a monster.


A Canaan Fir at Longwood Gardens decorated for birds and other woodland creatures.


●  Roll pine cones in peanut butter and birdseed and attach to the tree with a bit of wire.

●  Make yummy and attractive bird ornaments, like these from the people at Garden Gate Magazine.

●  Buy a suet cake or two at the hardware store or Big Box and hang with its cage on the tree.  Next year, you can plan ahead and make one at home. Or not.

●  Gently wrap an apple in wire to support it (so there are holes through which birds can peck) and hang it from the tree.


A close-up of mini bird feeders at Longwood Gardens made with wire, ribbon, terracotta saucers and decorative cording.


●  Create mini-bird feeders with wire, ribbon and terracotta saucers to hang from stronger branches.

●  If your children have fun ideas – let them run with them.  There is no wrong way to do this.  Unless of course they want to create mini-snowballs out of mothballs. A teaching moment, certainly.

DECORATE FOR YOURSELF (and that jogger)

This really is the fun part.  Find natural materials from your garden and use the framework of your tree as a ‘pincushion’ – sticking everything from berry clusters and rose hips to dried flowers and vines in a gorgeous arrangement showcasing the beauty of winter. No need to wire them in unless you have literally lost every needle on your tree – and even then, if you build up enough material you’ll probably be fine.


Look carefully at the garden around you for interesting textures and colors (like this ‘Adagio’ miscanthus), bundle them and stick them in the tree.


A few ideas:

Hydrangea flowers, teasel heads, maiden grass plumes and bundles of tawny foliage, dark fertile fronds from ostrich and sensitive ferns, sycamore seed heads, little blue stem bunches, wild rose hips, winterberry clusters, wild grape vines, dried okra heads, juniper berry clusters…..etc.. etc..

You are limited only by your imagination, your garden, and how quickly you can get out of your car along a dirt road with a pair of pruners.

Caveat: If you don’t know what it is, it’s probably best not to put it on the tree and tempt those little baby chickadees with deadly things like jimson weed seed heads – no matter how gorgeous they are.



You don’t need a step-by-step for this heading.  You’ll find yourself enjoying your Wildlife Tree every time you glimpse a bird pecking at a dried apple or a squirrel trying to shake off a bird seed pine cone to his buddy down below.

Your judgmental jogger will love your tree every time she goes by your house and think you the very best of human beings, and your kids will see a crazy-positive example of Recycle, Re-purpose, Reuse played out in Technicolor for them.


Soon spring will come and your tree will need to make its final journey.  Remove any artificial items like lights or wire and take your tree to your municipal green dump or a more rural friend’s waiting bonfire (ours is usually open for business). Many towns and cities pick up yard waste in the spring, and cutting your tree into a couple sections with a pruning saw will make it even easier for them.

Yes, it’s a little more trouble.  Yes you can toss it in December and move on to decorate for Valentine’s Day.  But just think of those little chickadees.

And that jogger. – MW