The 2020 holiday season is wrapping up, and as the decorations come down, many people are left wondering what to do with their live wreaths and trees.
Wisconsin produces more than 1.8 million Christmas trees and 600,000 wreaths annually, helping to supply more than 25 million American households with real Christmas trees, and millions of households with live wreaths.
Live trees and decorations are beautiful and have many benefits. Tree farms nationwide grow 400 million trees, which help to provide clean air and water, habitat for wildlife, and erosion control. Most of the nation’s 15,000 Christmas tree farms are family owned, and they provide more than 100,000 jobs.
But there is a drawback: These live decorations can introduce invasive species to new areas because they might have the invasive species hiding in their branches, or unknowing craftspeople may have incorporated invasive plant material into wreaths or flower arrangements.
In 2018 and 2019, the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) found fir Christmas trees, wreaths and other holiday decorations that were infested with elongate hemlock scale – an invasive insect. These contaminated decorations had been shipped to Wisconsin and presented a real threat to our coniferous forests and Christmas tree farms.
Luckily, DATCP helped to limit the spread, and to date, elongate hemlock scale has not been documented in the wild in Wisconsin. Some other invaders commonly spread during the holidays are multiflora rose, Japanese barberry and nonnative bittersweet. All of these plants are commonly used in making holiday wreaths and decorations, and then they are sometimes dumped into compost heaps, wooded areas and roadsides, allowing them to establish new populations and invade backyards and neighborhoods.
To minimize the chance of introducing an invasive species into your neighborhood, take advantage of any local Christmas tree recycling program. Some municipalities offer curbside tree pickup during a particular time period. If you can’t find such a program, take your tree to your local municipal composting facility, solid-waste facility, dump or landfill. These choices are the safest way to dispose of your decorations, especially if they were not purchased from a local tree farm.
Do not place nonlocal materials in your backyard because during the winter and into the early spring, pests, weed seeds and tree diseases could emerge and contaminate your property. Never place unwanted plant material – including locally sourced – in roadside ditches or natural areas.
To learn more about invasive species, visit doorinvasives.org/terrestrial-invasives.