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Lake Effect’s Joy Powers chats with Venice Williams, the executive director of Alice’s Garden and the Fondy Food Center, about gardening, herbal remedies and healthy cooking.

Top 10 ways to reuse your Christmas tree


Many of us look forward to gathering around our Christmas trees for the holidays. But as December 26th rolls around, we start to ask ourselves: what are we going to do with this thing?

"I am the person to answer that question. I have a live tree every year and have done so for at least the past 25 years and it is always a pleasure for me to recycle and reuse my tree," says Venice Williams from Alice’s Garden and Dig In! contributor. She shares her top ways to reuse a Christmas tree.

  1. Pine Tea
    "There's a reason why the evergreen can withstand the cold... Get a huge mason jar or jars, fill up a few of those and really drink your needles," says Williams.

    She says pine tea and cedar tea are some of the best to get people through the winter months and it can help with cold or cough prevention. Just add trimmed pine needles to boiling water, strain, and enjoy.

  2. Bird Sanctuary
    Trees don't need to be alive to be a habitat for wildlife. Dead trees can make great bird houses by simply leaving them where other trees may be. Williams describes her own experiences using trees for wildlife.

    "I would put it outside hang bird feeders to attract certain birds and then watch my tree evolve into a bird sanctuary. Very often spring would come and I would see that even though this tree is not alive, I would find a nest or signs that other critters have utilized this tree throughout the winter," she says.

  3. Mulch, Compost and Wood chips
    "A lot of people take their tree, take the branches off, cut the branches off and mulch their gardens, mulch around the base of your other trees or perennials and again it just creates a little warmer protection for all that life, all that growth that is still going on within the soil," says Williams.

    Pine needles can be full of nutrients that can enhance the PH of your soil and ash, from burnt trunks and branches, can be mixed with compost and used to keep harmful insects away from the garden.

  4. Fire wood
    Christmas trees make great kindling for a fire, but they shouldn't be used immediately after the holidays. If you're going to use your tree as firewood inside, Williams cautions to make sure it's been dried for four to six month before use. Sap from an evergreen is very flammable and although it may not seem like a problem after a single fire, built up sap can be dangerous inside.

    "For an outdoor fireplace, you can use it a little sooner because it's much safer to be out there, the sap in the indoor fireplace could really build up," she explains.

  5. Smudge sticks
    Smudge sticks are generally a bundle of herbs tied together, dried, and then burned as incense or used to ritually cleanse a space. Williams suggests combining pine needles with other herbs to create the smudge stick.

    "I'll take the branch and maybe bundle some of them together and believe it or not even in January, I will still be harvesting seeds from my garden, common sage-garden stage. So I bundle that pine along with some of my sage and let everything dry out together and I also get to make some smudge sticks," says Willams.

  6. Garden stakes
    When spring rolls around, gardeners begin buying up plastic or wooden garden stakes to secure vining vegetables and flowers. Reusing branches from the Christmas tree is an eco-friendly and pocket-friendly way to help future plants.

    Williams says, "It's kind of nice when it is July and you walk out to your garden and you see something left over from December."

  7. Air fresheners
    "Put them in muslin bags, the pine needles, and you can put them in your drawers where your clothes are or even create car fresheners," she explains.

    The pine needles can be combined with other herbs or used on their own.

  8. Fish Feeders
    Trees can be reused to create a habitat for fish in Wisconsin's rivers and shallow lakes. Just make sure the local municipality allows you to dump trees in the river or lake before doing it.

    Williams says, "The tree is going to anchor itself down at the bottom and as time passes, algae starts to form on the tree, which feeds the fish and also protects them from predators."

  9. Pine oil and lotion
    Using a Nesco, Williams brews pine branches and needles to create some of the hair and body products she sells.

    "As a person who has an herbal and natural based product line, most of my tree goes into olive oils and coconut oils, those pine needles, all of those evergreens are so good for your skin and for your body," says Williams.

  10. How Lovely Are Thy Branches Winter 2022 Labyrinth
    Every month, Williams shares a book that she recommends, but this time she's recommending an outdoor activity. This year, Madison will host a labyrinth made out of reused trees, something she hopes will catch on in Milwaukee.

    "If you live in the Madison area, you can drop the tree off at Oak Ridge Beach Park between January 2 and January 29. And then the opening day for the labyrinth is January 30... I'm hoping that maybe in the Milwaukee area, will take this idea and maybe one of our parks will do something in 2023," says Williams.

Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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