- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A scraggly branch, really no more than a few pine needles, is selected by a boy from a lot of gaudy aluminum trees. Charlie Brown’s story hasn’t changed in nearly 50 years, the young man’s success at finding the true meaning of Christmas reflected in the glistening decorations bestowed by his friends on the skinny natural tree.

What would have happened to that storied sprig if Charlie Brown had overlooked it? For that matter, what happens to all those Charlie BrownChristmas trees left in lots on Dec. 25?

“The best we can hope for at closing time on the 24th is that we try to give them away at some point to people who might need them,” said Mark Holler, owner of Gingko Gardens in the District. “Some may be taken, but fortunately, we plan well. We don’t have a lot of waste. As for the others, we try to make certain they are utilized in recycling, like community gardens, or chipped into mulch.”

Mulching is often the fate for post-Christmas trees. The firs, spruces, pines and cedars that have brightened homes during the holiday season are ground into pieces for homeowners to feed their springtime gardens.

An increasing number of government agencies and clever businesses are using leftover trees for more than compost. The trees can be used as homes for fish, a small town’s energy supply, snacks for exotic animals and even barriers against Mother Nature.

Headed to the beach

After Superstorm Sandy, residents along the New Jersey coastline came home to leveled communities and flooded homes, but Bradley Beach just needed a good sweep.

“We’re in the process now of restoring our beach after the hurricane, moving sand away from the boardwalk,” said Julie Schreck, the mayor of Bradley Beach. “The dunes did their job; they resisted the onslaught of the ocean. When the ocean finally started to punch through the dunes were further compacted and there was far less destruction.”

For more than a decade, the town has placed old Christmas trees in the beach sand. Flanked by parallel lines of fencing, the yuletide sentries catch sand that blows in from the beach.

“It sets in the trees, and through the action of the wind, packs the sand,” Ms. Schreck said. “Some towns just bulldoze sand into places and call it a dune. That’s a very unstable pile of sand. When you allow the natural action, it’s more stable and resilient.”

It takes several seasons to bury an entire tree, but once the dune is about 4 feet high, the town plants dune grass, which takes root and helps stabilize the sand. Though she couldn’t give an exact number, Ms. Schreck said thousands of Christmas trees are buried in dunes along the one-mile stretch of beach.

“After the storm, we had these skeletal Christmas trees blowing around like tumbleweeds,” Ms. Schreck said. “People were like, ‘That might be my Christmas tree.’”

Rick Dungey, a spokesman for the National Christmas Tree Association, said he has heard of similar practices along the East Coast and the Gulf Coast.

“There’s a lot of really creative programs for whole trees post-consumer use,” Mr. Dungey said. “Whether you’ve got 100 left over or just one from your house, it’s important to find out who is going to use that plant material and what kind of program they’re doing locally.”

Appearances count

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