Old Christmas Trees Grow Summer Berries and Other Winter Garden Tips

Rather than drag it out to the curb for the town to pick up, why not feed your (or your neighbors’) old Christmas tree to the garden? According to Patricia Kenschaft, Montclair resident, master organic gardener and professor of mathematics at Montclair State University, berry bushes love the acidity of evergreen needles and branches.

Seen here with some of her winter carrot crop, Kenschaft enjoys the earth’s bounty year-round, and has eaten three meals of fresh Chinese cabbage from her cold frame in just this last week (pictured below right).

Below are some of her tips on plant recycling, composting and the joys of winter gardening.

‘Tis the season to save your municipality money by collecting others’ Christmas trees! Fred brought home the first put out on our block this morning, and I have cut off half the branches and put them under the blueberry bushes next to the neighbor’s driveway. That’s all the fertilizer those bushes have had for their ~30 years there, and they are doing fine.

Evergreen needles and branches are high in acid, which also rains down on us, so you don’t want to use them in your vegetable garden. However, acid-loving berries such as blueberries thrive on disposed Christmas trees. I THINK, but am not sure, that other berries like them too, but I use leaves for raspberries’ mulch/fertilizer. Straw is the primary mulch for strawberries, and they yield much more since I’ve been using the mulch they prefer each winter — kindly put on folks’ curbs after Halloween.

My third crop of lettuce has germinated abundantly, and again I will have seedlings to share. If you want some, let me know how many and when you can come. It doesn’t look like a good time to put seedlings on the porch indefinitely!

I’m in something of a soil crunch now, and will be parsimonious with the soil I share. I considered digging garden soil and compost before Christmas, but it didn’t seem ideal to have it in my oven while guests were here and I certainly didn’t want to treat them to the aroma of baked soil. After they left Christmas evening, digging in the dark didn’t occur to me. So here I am, longing for the time when I can dig some compost and soil from my garden. I did notice that the soil was plenty soft on Dec. 23 around the carrots and parsnips. It will be interesting to see how easy/hard it is to dig compost in the near future.

I went to the compost pile on Saturday! I’ve rarely, if ever, felt so trimphant about such a journey. It was the seventh day after the trip on Christmas evening, when I DID think of disposing the guests’ leftovers there. By Saturday there was quite an accumulation of citrus rinds, but the fruit (from the Glen Ridge Band Parents’ Association — thank you!) is delicious this week amid the much less virtuous food we’ve been enjoying.

What’s on Kenschaft’s gardening to do list for the rest of the winter?

January: Drag home 5 neighbor’s Christmas trees and cut them up as mulch for blueberries. If there is a thaw, dig the ground, plant lettuce and pak choi, and cover with floating cover, a plastic sheet that admits light and water. Plant leaf lettuce on the windowsill. Order the year’s seeds from catalogs (see below how to get them).

February: Prune blueberries and fruits. Apply dormant oil spray. Start brocolli, Sweet 100 tomatoes, and Malabar spinach indoors.

March: Sow Sugar Ann peas early in the month and more than a half pound of sugar snap peas later. This is the year’s most tedious job, but it feels great in the warming sun. Do it over many days.

Indoors start basil, parsley, celery, nasturtiums (yes, we eat the flowers and leaves!), and Early Girl tomatoes. Sow lettuce, radishes, and pak choi outdoors under floating cover.

You can read her year-round schedule and other words of gardening wisdom on her blog.

Photo from Cornucopia newsletter.

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  1. I love this. I’m now inspired to cut my tree up this weekend and put the branches under my evergreen bushes. What is a good thing to do with the bare pine branches in the spring? I’ve been told never to burn pine in the fireplace.

  2. “What is a good thing to do with the bare pine branches in the spring? ”

    Cut and split them into 6 inch long by 1 inch “shards” and use them as tooth brushes. The pine oil makes a wonderful breath freshener.

  3. The east side of my vast palatial estate overlooks Pat’s garden and she is quite inspiring. Because of her, I am a composting fool and look forward to tilling a part of my garden for new apple trees.

    No berries though, so what happens when the Town takes the trees? Where do they end up? Someplace where they can “go back” to nature, I hope.

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