The Secret Gardener kicks off the year with their tips for using old Christmas trees to create habitat for wildlife in your garden.
Gardeners can be notoriously thrifty and resourceful. We don't like to let anything go to waste and can see the potential in all manner of materials - home-made compost being the perfect example of 'waste' turned into good food for plants.
I'm always struck by the sight of Christmas trees being brought out into the streets of cities like Edinburgh in early January, to be collected by the council and turned into wood chip. It seems such a wasted opportunity to do something with them to help wildlife in the garden.
I believe that every garden needs at least one 'quiet corner'. My quiet corners are places under trees and shrubs where I do the least gardening and let nature get on with it. They are places where I'll leave woody cuttings from other plants or old compost, and other buts and pieces from the garden which would normally go into the local authority green waste bin. In places like this, butterflies and moths can tuck themselves away to complete their metamorphosis, changing from a caterpillar into an adult insect. You might also find bumblebees nesting on the ground here, and a whole host of beetles, spiders, centipedes and more, living out their lives away from the sight and interference from us. These are also the places where birds make nests, and hedgehogs hibernate.
Old Christmas trees can provide a kind of building framework for your quiet corner. You could cut the branches off and lay them on top of each other to make a structure that looks simple to us, but which for an insect or other invertebrate will be a complex new structure to live within. For the thicker parts of the trunk you could cut them into smaller logs and leave them around the garden, even among flower beds. Make sure they get good contact with the soil underneath so they stay damp, and over the years they will rot down and become food for the grubs of some beetles which will then provide natural control of slugs and snails for you. You could also stack these logs into a pyramid shape to provide more nooks and crannies for all sorts of wildlife to live.
You don't need an old Christmas tree to do this, any natural material that provides more structure for wildlife is useful. Go for a walk in a woodland where you hear and see lots of birds and you'll see what I mean. There'll be dead wood with fungi and moss, a thick floor of dead leaves, and fallen branches and shrubs at different stages of their lives. all providing a huge variety of spaces where life can exist in abundance. If we want this abundance in our gardens, all we need to do is take some inspiration from the places we find it already.
At this time of year it is worth reflecting on the in-between state that things can be in. In this article I have said 'dead leaves' and 'old Christmas trees', but anyone who has watched nature knows that these things have another role ahead of them. Fallen leaves feed the soil, and Christmas trees that once brought delight inside out homes may bring delight yet again when we see what the wildlife of our gardens makes of them.