Oh Tannen-gone Oh Tannen-gone how lovely are your branches

The holidays are over and you are now faced with a couple of decisions. When do I get rid of the Christmas tree and what do I do with it? This of course is an easy decision if the tree is life-like, find the storage container and pack it away for another season. If it’s a fresh cut tree you need to take action soon. Good thing you resolved to be a better pro-active decision maker as a New Year’s resolution. Here are some things to ponder as you wander through your living space considering your next move.
1. I suggest the purchase of a nice foliage houseplant. A Schefflera or Ficus will motivate you to fill the space. It will also clean your indoor air in the next few months as we “plow” through the remaining winter season.
2. Many cities and municipalities offer a drop off site and in some cases pick up for your tree. This is a good choice because they have the equipment to recycle your tree into mulch and compost with heavy equipment. The mulch and compost will be used in parks as path material for hikers and other areas becoming once again one with the earth.

How lovely are your branches

3. Here’s a thought for those of you with a crafty side. The trunk can be cut into discs and converted into coasters and trivets.
4. Branches can be snipped and stored to use for staking plants.
5. Branches can be snipped with foliage as boughs and used as mulch in perennial beds in the landscape.
6. I like to stand up the tree outside in the landscape for January-April. The birds love it as shelter. You can encourage them by adding some suet or a feeder hung somewhere near the tree. Orange slices or strung popcorn is another option in the tree. In spring cut up the tree and add it to the compost pile.
7. Branches can be cut up and used as kindling for your OUTDOOR firepit. Do NOT burn them in a fireplace or wood stove indoors.
8. With permission some people sink them in a pond or lake as a fish habitat. Check first if allowed and seek permission. Make sure the tree is free of any ornaments, hooks, lights or other non-natural decorations.
9. Needles off the tree make a great natural mulch for your landscape, especially for broadleaf evergreen plants like Rhododendron, Azaleas and Holly.
10. Some of the needles can be saved to be used in potpourri and sachets, evergreen scents have that clean purifying effect on our senses when cooped up with the window closed in winter.

Oh Tannen-gone Oh Tannen-gone how lovely are your branches

Hoe Hoe Hoe

The landscape provides a bounty of holiday decorating opportunities with entry porch pots to welcome visitors to your home. Flowers now frozen in pots can be pulled and you can create warm welcoming containers in existing pots that I call “porch pots” for the holiday season. Hoe, Hoe, Hoe, let your landscape add to the festive look of the holidays.

Evergreen branches and decorations in a standard nursery pot with soil
Evergreen branches and decorations in a standard nursery pot with soil

Start with some containers for your deck or entry steps. I like to use ceramic pots that were used for flowering annuals during the growing season. In November before the soil freezes hard, branches cut at a 45 degree angle to create a point can be pushed into the soil to arrange your festive welcome. If you’re potting up some new containers make sure to have some bags of thawed potting soil stored for use for when you’re ready to arrange. After your arrangement is made and left outdoors the soil will freeze and hold the branches in place.
With a good pruning shears and a pleasant November day, a bountiful harvest can be had to add color to outdoor container arrangements and wreaths. The foundation of your arrangement will be evergreen boughs.

Evergreen branches
Evergreen branches

You can purchase evergreen boughs in bundles or prune your own. Here in Michigan Douglas Fir is a great choice because of their fragrance. Fraser Fir is easy to work with and provides beautiful evergreen color. Colorado Blue Spruce will add some color and interest, just make sure you’re wearing gloves when working with their prickly attitude. Scotch Pine and White Pine are also great choices. Oregon greens are available for purchase and evergreen boughs of Noble Fir and Incense Cedar as examples provide great interest.
Now that you’ve placed the foundation stems of evergreen boughs in the pot working from the center to the outside arching them over the side, the fun is just beginning.

Red Twig Dogwood adds lots of color!
Red Twig Dogwood adds lots of color!

Now we get creative with remnants of the landscape to add color and interest. My favorite cuttings or stems to work into my arrangements are:
• Red Twig Dogwood
• Curly Willow
• Gold Twig Dogwood
• Birch branches
• Upright Sedum
• Deciduous Holly Berry Branches
• Agastache
• Ninebark Branches
• Echinacea or Rudbeckia spent bloom seed heads
Use your creativity to find items in the landscape to offset the evergreen branches in both color and texture.

Gold twig Dogwood
Finally you can add some artificial elements to the arrangement. Solid color ball ornaments can be added, some are available on sticks to poke into the soil. Plastic colored ball ornaments may be a good choice if breakage is a concern. Artificial berry stems can be purchased to add bright colors. LED lights can be added for nighttime interest and color. If a plug is not handy or extension cords would be unsightly, LED lights use little power and are available in battery operated options also.
Hoe, Hoe, Hoe, your landscape is in the spirit of the season with festive gatherings in porch pots, and a little help from you.

Make your Christmas “Greens” come true!

When it comes to your Christmas tree it’s not much different than a tree in your landscape…..it needs “re-hydration” when nature calls so to speak. Foliage or in this case needles transpire like people perspire when things warm up. In the case of an evergreen they’ll transpire indoors when you turn up the heat.

Oh Christmas Tree!

Due to a decrease in hydrostatic water pressure in the needles as they transpire the tree “pulls” water upward through the xylem to re-hydrate the tree. The same applies to trees and plants in your landscape. The big difference of course is that the Christmas tree in your living room has no roots to reach out.

You have to reach out and provide the water to your tree so the “FMC” does not drop to unacceptable levels at which point “yule” have to reach for a vacuum cleaner. FMC is Foliage Moisture Content. Make a fresh cut on the bottom of Christmas tree and immediately place it in water. When you get a wound your body begins to clot and scab the wound naturally. The tree does the same with sap at the cut which in turn inhibits or cuts off moisture flow through the tree.

When the “FMC” drops below 25% needles will drop and the tree may no longer draw water even though it is sitting in water. The greater the water pickup results in higher foliage moisture content which also provides the best ignition resistance.

Go Green!

Trees with a high “FMC” tend to self-extinguish versus a dry tree with low “FMC” can go up like a torch if subjected to an ignition source. Light up your holidays the right way and get long lasting fragrance and beauty from your tree by making a fresh cut, put the tree immediately in water and keep the water bowl full until you remove the tree after the holidays. Placing a fishing bobber or ping pong ball in the water will help you see at a glance the water level in the bowl. Pay attention to your tree’s “FMC” and it will make all your Christmas “Greens” come true!


Needlecast is not a new on-line broadcast of sarcastic comedians……..it is a fungus that might be affecting your evergreen trees. The fungus Rhizosphaera Needlecast causes browning and premature needle drop on Spruce and Pines. Browning of the needles is apparent in early spring. Here is a picture of Needlecast sent to me from my friend Brian McKenzie at Bartlett Tree Experts.

Rhizosphaera Needlecast

Often diagnosed as “winter damage” the problem tends to appear first on lower branches. I’m convinced this is because the lower branches are the wettest and most shaded part of the evergreen tree. Fruiting spores are spread by spring rain to other needles including those that are newly formed. Stressed trees that are not properly cared for (feeding and water) are most susceptible. Remove infected limbs and fallen needles in early spring. Overstory trees in close proximity to these evergreen trees need to be pruned to improve light and air penetration. Fungicides will reduce infection. Applications should be made in spring when new needles are half expanded and repeated when fully expanded. Stick with a fungicide spray program for two to three years running and focus on improving general tree health to minimize stress.