Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

December 26, 2012

Recycling Christmas trees and poinsettias

By Richard Jauron and Willy Klein
Daily Iowegian

CENTERVILLE — When Christmas is over, the egg nog gone, relatives departed and decorations are getting packed away, it also is time to get rid of the real Christmas tree. Horticulturists with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach have advice on disposing of trees and options for poinsettias after the holidays. To have additional yard and garden questions answered contact the Iowa State University Hortline at hortline@iastate.edu or (515) 294-3108.

What are some good ways to dispose of a Christmas tree after the holidays?

After the holidays, there are several ways to dispose of or recycle your tree. Before recycling your Christmas tree, remove all ornaments, lights and tinsel.

Place the tree in the yard or garden for use by birds and other wildlife. The branches provide shelter from strong winds and cold. Supply food by hanging fruit slices, seed cakes, suet bags or strings of cranberries or raisins on the tree’s branches. You also can smear peanut butter and seeds in pine cones and hang them in the tree.  

Prune off the tree’s branches and place the boughs over perennials as winter mulch. Chip the tree and use the chipped material as mulch around trees, shrubs or in perennial flower beds.  

If you can't use the tree yourself, contact your solid waste agency or sanitation service. Most communities have some type of Christmas tree disposal program. Some have central collection points, others collect trees at curbside. Collected trees may be chipped into mulch and made available to local residents or used in city parks. Others may be chipped and composted.  

Conservation groups may be another option. Some hunting and fishing groups collect trees and use them to provide habitat for wildlife.  

Don’t burn your Christmas tree in a fireplace or wood stove. Dry, evergreen branches literally explode when burned and could cause a house fire. Also, burning the tree may contribute to the buildup of creosote and lead to a flue fire.

What should I do with my poinsettia after the holidays?

If given good care in the home, a poinsettia should remain attractive for two to three months. Toss the poinsettia when you grow tired of it or it becomes unattractive.  

For those home gardeners who enjoy a challenge, it is possible to get the poinsettia to bloom again next season. Cut the stems back to within 4 to 6 inches of the soil in March. The poinsettia also may be repotted at this time. When new growth appears, place the poinsettia in a sunny window. Continue to water the plant when the soil surface becomes dry to the touch. Fertilize every two weeks with a dilute fertilizer solution.  

In late May, move the poinsettia outdoors. Harden or acclimate the plant to the outdoors by placing it in a shady, protected area for two or three days, then gradually expose it to longer periods of direct sun. The poinsettia should be properly hardened in seven to 10 days. Once hardened, dig a hole in an area that receives six to eight hours of sunlight and set the pot into the ground. To obtain a compact, bushy plant, pinch or cut off the shoot tips once or twice from late June to mid-August. Continue to water and fertilize the plant outdoors.  

The poinsettia should be brought indoors in mid-September. Place the plant in a bright, sunny window. The poinsettia is a short-day plant. Short-day plants grow vegetatively during the long days of summer and produce flowers when days become shorter in fall. To get the poinsettia to flower for Christmas, the plant must receive complete darkness from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. daily from early October until the bracts develop good color, usually early December. Protect the plant from light by placing it in a closet or by covering with a box. During the remainder of the day, the poinsettia should be in a sunny window.