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Last year, more than $1 billion was spent on live Christmas trees, according to figures from a consumer survey compiled by Mr. Dungey’s association. About 31 million were purchased, and the average buyer spent $35.

Even with the stable popularity of live trees, some inevitably are not sold.

“Leftover Christmas trees are an unfortunate public relations problem,” said Dennis Thompkins, an arborist in Washington state. “They’re planted and grown like any crop. You never sell 100 percent, but you hope you reach public demand.”

If seeing a lot on Christmas Eve with a few lonely trees still standing pulls at your heartstrings, blame fellow buyers, Mr. Thompkins said.

“The American consumer is so persnickety. He wants all the fruits and vegetables to look wonderful.”

Like the produce department of a grocery store, Christmas tree lots are continuously stocked and surveyed to ensure only the best-looking products are available.

“Stores are constantly going through their bins of approved vegetables, and those that have a little bit of a problem are disposed of,” Mr. Thompkins said. “We don’t see them being disposed, because it’s generally done when the stores are closed.”

Chipping away

Mr. Dungey said a typical 7-foot tree weighs about 20 pounds, but a lot of that weight is from water. Taking into account trees with different branch and needle density, as well as some of the larger trees, it’s hard to pin down just how much mulch is produced after each Christmas season, Mr. Dungey said.

“If you’re a lot manager, trees are no different than a place set up to sell pumpkins,” Mr. Dungey said. “You have to do something with the organic waste if you have it left over. Different communities have their own ways of dealing with that. It’s important to find out how to recycle, to make sure you get into that stream.”

Back to nature

One option with an uptick in interest is using trees as underwater fences to promote algae growth in freshwater lakes and ponds.

“There’s a lot of benefits to having the trees,” said Don Cosden, manager of the inland fisheries division of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. “Tree limbs or other kinds of structure with little spaces provide things for your basic food-chain organisms, like algae, to get started. Then other critters come along. It’s a benefit to the basics of the food chain. It’s a benefit to young fish who use it to hide from predators, and even larger fish tend to hide close to the structure and use it as a cover or an ambush point.”

The trees are weighted with chains and cement and dropped into freshwater areas. St. Mary’s Lake in St. Mary’s County and Deep Creek Lake in Garrett County have Christmas trees at their bottoms, Mr. Cosden said. His department has been using this practice for more than 20 years. California and Louisiana also have anchored trees into their freshwater lakes.

Civic duties

Story Continues →