"Nothing lasts forever" is an all-too-accurate adage for the more than 25 million Christmas trees purchased each year in the U.S. All those darn little pine needles drying up and interminably scattering around the house just prove that even the sweetest celebrations must come to an end, especially if you want to keep your home clean. Live Christmas trees readily biodegrade -- so long as they're exposed to oxygen, not smothered in landfills. Their useful lives can be prolonged as mulch for garden beds, barriers against flooding and so on. Preparedness is all!

Whenever your family tradition prescribes the removal of the tree, here are some tips for thoughtfully dispatching it. For instance, if you live near Phillipsburg, N.J., there's the Perfect Christmas Tree Farm's annual Tree Chip Day celebration on January 10. Events at this farm party include Smokey the Bear's birthday party; a tailgate auction with pro auctioneers helping you sell some of those unwanted presents you received; a worm exhibit that helps folks visually understand the decomposition process; and of course, free tree chipping and big bag of mulch to take home with you. If you live near NYC, one great excuse to party is the annual five-borough MulchFest, including kids' activities galore. If you live elsewhere, check out the resources below.

But first, here's the deal with mulch: not only does it protect sloping ground from soil erosion, it also reduces soil compaction from rain, keeps soil moisture from evaporating, keeps weeds down and provides the perfect environment for helpful garden critters like earthworms. In short, it's a gardener's cure-all. Best of all, after Christmas you can get your mulch for free, courtesy of your tree. You can hack off branches with a hand saw and lay them on garden beds as winter decoration and protection. The trunk and thicker branches, however, must be composted or chopped up to make good mulch. "Some municipalities will use a larger size chipper that can handle the bigger tree trunks.  The branches could be cut off of the tree trunk and used as mulch or to hold leaf mulch in place," says Anne Edwards, president of the New Jersey Christmas Tree Growers Association. Heads up: Most of the community chipping events around the country happen on January 10. So wrap your tree in an old sheet, tarp or what have you, to keep it stored in one piece until you can cart it to the chipping place.

To locate Christmas tree recycling centers and services in your neighborhood, type in your ZIP code at Earth 911, the brilliant online directory that helps you recycle just about anything. You can also find your municipal parks department or recycling services by searching here at the eminently useful Local.com. Many locales pick trees up curbside, just as they do regular yard waste. Just doublecheck that your municipality recycles trees instead of just dumping them.

"After Christmas is dull compared to the holiday celebrations," says Cynthia Curtis of Perfect Christmas Tree Farm. "We do this event each year to extend the holiday pleasure." For more tree-repurposing ideas, the National Christmas Tree Association highlights how a variety of communities nationwide reuse trees; for how to use your tree as a wild bird feeder, see this article in the Chicago Sun-Times.

This story originally appeared in Plenty in January 2009. The story was added to MNN.com in November 2009.

Copyright Environ Press 2009