Now that your Christmas tree — which brought such joy — is tattered and dry, how can you keep its spirit alive throughout the year? By tearing off its limbs and grinding it up for mulch. Though this may sound like Halloween got mixed up with Christmas, treating your tree to a gruesome end gives it a makeover that will have other plants cozy through the rest of the winter.
This year, the weather’s been dry, with warm days, freezing nights and plenty of wind; this is a recipe for disaster for plants in our landscapes. Moisture from exposed ground is wicked away and in bone-dry soil, roots wither and die.
Perennial beds endure the double jeopardy of the freeze-thaw cycle, where soil heaves and cracks; exposure to the elements kills roots and bulbs. In spring, your perennial bed will be a shadow of its former self, spotted with dead plants surrounded by a chalk outline of leaves and stems.
Fortunately, this is something that can be remedied with a nice drink and thick blanket, but get yourself up off the couch on the next warm day to go outside and water those perennials. Then cover them with the ground up Christmas tree.
When experts say “apply a thick mulch,” how deep do they mean — a bag or a truckload? While you don’t need to pile mulch up to your chest, the depth of the coating depends on the size of the wood chips. Because they compact more, smaller chips should be applied thinly; no more than one to two inches thick. Larger wood chips should be spread three to four inches thick. More than this and you run the risk of smothering the plants.
Evergreen branches from the Christmas tree are excellent blankets, giving evergreen plants extra protection from the winter. Evergreen and semi-evergreen perennials, at risk from sunscald (called winter burn), can’t replace moisture pulled from leaves by windy, sunny days when the ground is frozen. Boughs trimmed from your tree will buffer these plants from the worst of the elements.
Use only those branches that still have needles clinging to them, laying them two layers deep across the perennials. In spring, slowly move them off of the plants to let air circulate to the plant, and ensure new sprouts harden off as they grow.
This post was previously published in the Longmont Ledger.