GROW: Freshly-cut Christmas trees provide refuge for birds after the holidays | Lifestyles

The presents are unwrapped, the last leftovers from the holiday meal have been cleaned up, and the grandparents have returned home. While some families like to leave the Christmas tree for as long as possible, others are ready to take it apart and pack the ornaments for next year.

For those who are fed up with vacuuming pine needles from the ground, don’t just throw the tree on the sidewalk for recycling. Turn it into a natural bird feeder and landscape bird shelter.

While the decorated tree has certainly taken center stage inside the home during the holidays, it can also be a fun addition to the landscape. With the ornaments and lights removed, leave the tree on the stand or place it in a bucket of soil and place it outside. Not only will it add a touch of color to the winter landscape, but it will also be a safe haven for birds. The tree will offer them a place to hide from the cold as the dense branches will protect them from wind, rain and snow.

Not only can the tree provide a comfortable habitat, it can also be a food source – not the tree itself – but it can be a place to hang popcorn or cranberry strings that birds can munch on.

A fun after Christmas family activity can be making edible tree ornaments. In addition to popcorn or cranberries, collect pine cones and coat them with peanut butter and roll them in birdseed. Tie colorful thread to the top of the pine cone and hang it from the tree.

Another option is to string red or green grapes on pipe cleaners. Make a circle with the pipe cleaners and they look like miniature crowns on the tree. Cut apples and hang them on the tree with ordinary ornamental hooks or wire. After the birds have eaten the apples, they can use the wire or twine as nesting material.

If you have any leftover mesh bags like the ones the onions come from the store, fill them with chopped fruit and hang them on the tree. Winter can mean thin pickings for our feathered friends, so any food help you can provide is good for them. Before you know it, the landscape can be filled with chickadees, song sparrows, cardinals, and a host of other birds that are happy to find food and shelter.

For those who may not want to turn the old Christmas tree into a bird feeder, check with city officials about a tree recycling program. In many communities, trees are collected and turned into mulch for local parks and public gardens.

While the Christmas season can be somewhat short, families can extend the joy of the holidays with a Christmas tree bird feeder.

David Hillock is a consumer horticulturalist at Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension.

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