3 Ways to Turn Christmas Trees into Wildlife Habitat

This is the time of year when Christmas trees seem to be everywhere. After the Christmas season, many of those trees are hauled out to the curb to be hauled to the landfill. However, did you know that if you have a real Christmas tree that you can use it to create wildlife or fish habitat when you get ready to take it down instead of sending it to the landfill?

To use your Christmas tree for wildlife or fish habitat, first remove all decorations, lights, hooks, tinsel, etc. – basically everything that didn’t naturally grow on the tree. After your tree is undecorated, you have a few different options.

Carolina wrens are one of the many songbirds that will use brush piles. Not only will they take shelter within the brush pile, but they will also hunt for insects and other arthropods living there. Photo credit: Richard Smith, cc-by 2.0 

1) Create a brush pile on your property.

Brush piles provide songbirds, lizards, snakes, and rabbits or other small mammals with places to hide, hunt, and live. To start a new brush pile, move the undecorated tree to an appropriate place on your property. You don’t want to build a brush pile next to the house or the garage / shed because it could attract critters that we don’t want in our homes. If you live in town or a subdivision, you’ll also want to make sure there aren’t any ordinances against having brush piles on your property.

Once you have found the right spot for your brush pile, you can just lay the tree on its side, maybe throw some other sticks and limbs you pick up around your yard on top of the tree and call it good. This creates a small, natural brush pile similar to what would happen when a tree falls naturally. You can also make a much larger and more permanent brush pile by gathering your neighbors’ discarded trees, cutting off the branches, building a tick-tack-toe type grid with the trunks, then piling the branches and any other limbs you find on top of the trunks. If neither of these designs works for you, then you can do an internet search on “how to create a brush pile for wildlife,” and you’ll come up with several other designs for building brush piles. No matter what design you choose, you can keep adding to your brush pile every year and even grow vines over it during the spring and summer.

2) Create a fish attractor in your pond.

If you have a pond on your property, you can use your discarded Christmas tree to create fish habitat. The branches will provide places for smaller fish to hide from larger fish. Small invertebrates living in the water will also take up residence along the branches. The simplest way to create fish habitat with your Christmas tree, is to secure the tree to something heavy like a cinder block and plop it into your pond in an area that is deep enough that the tree will be submerged. (When you secure the tree to whatever you are using as a weight, you can lay the tree on its side; the tree doesn’t have to stand up underwater.) Larger, fish attractors can be built by securing several trees to the same weight or by building a lean-to type frame out of untreated lumber and then securing multiple trees to the frame.

Christmas trees can be used to create fish habitat in ponds and lakes. Many state and federal agencies will collect trees to use for fish habitat in public lakes. Photo credit: Sue Sapp / U.S. Air Force, public domain

3) Give your tree to someone else to create a brush pile or fish attractor

If you don’t have a place for a brush pile or fish attractor on your property, you can give your tree to someone else who can use it for those purposes. In Kentucky, the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources has several drop off locations all across the state where they will accept Christmas trees to use for creating fish habitat. If you aren’t in Kentucky, call or email your state’s Fish and Wildlife Department and ask them if they have a program to accept Christmas trees for wildlife or fisheries habitat. If they don’t have such a program, then ask if they know of another agency or organization who might be able to use your tree.

Whether or not your state has a program to reuse discarded Christmas trees, please don’t just dump your tree on public property (on land or in a lake). Let the land managers decide where to put the fish attractors and brush piles because they know what all of the land uses are in the area and are tasked with balancing wildlife / natural resource needs with visitor use and safety issues.

This article was part of Shannon’s original Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife blog which evolved into the blog for Backyard Ecology.

Backyard Ecology: Exploring Nature in Your Backyard
Nature isn’t just “out there.” It’s all around us, including right outside our doors. Hi, my name is Shannon Trimboli, and I am the host of Backyard Ecology. I live in southcentral Kentucky and am a wildlife biologist, educator, author, beekeeper, and owner of a nursery specializing in plants for pollinators and wildlife conservation. I invite you to join me as we ignite our curiosity and natural wonder, explore our yards and communities, and improve our local pollinator and wildlife habitat. Learn more or subscribe to my email list at www.backyardecology.net.

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