The county is offering some gifts that keep on giving -- that is, ifyou did your part for conservation and recycled that old Christmas tree.
Yours for the asking are mulch for your garden to grow in anda pine seedling you can light and decorate in about, oh, 10 years.
In January, the county issued about 3,400 claim checks to tree recyclers who turned in their holiday discards for shredding at the Hoods Mill and Northern landfills.
In addition, each of the county's eight towns jumped on the recycling wagon. The county transported itsnewly-purchased shredder, which arrived just in time for holiday refuse, around to all the towns. The machine quickly converts pine treesinto mulch.
"The towns dropped trees off in the thousands," said Neil Ridgely, county landscaper. "People all over the county were extremely cooperative."
Because of those efforts, about 9,000 trees are not decomposing in the county landfills now. Instead they have become 37 tons, or 74,000 pounds of mulch.
"People are so into recycling, it's amazing," he said. "Private citizens took personal time to get involved in the project. Many of them had to go out of their way to participate."
The project saved space in the landfills and now provides Carroll's gardeners with a free, fresh jump on spring planting.
"The mulch is available to the public at no cost," said Ridgely. "All anyone needs is a large trash bag and a shovel."
Residentsare welcome to fill those bags at either Hoods Mill or Northern landfills during regular hours.
Ridgely added that the mulch is piled high and is easy to find.
Town residents don't need to gas up and drive to the landfills. Each town has its own mulch pile, from its discarded and shredded trees, for the use of its residents.
Ridgely does add one word of caution. The mulch is too fresh to use on your spring plants right away. It could deprive the soil of nitrogen and plants could lose vital trace elements, such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
Fresh mulch should be allowed to decompose for about six months. Or he suggested putting it to other uses.
"It makes a great play surface for children," he said. "Try using it under swing sets."
If you don't want to wait, you can add a formulated nitrogen, found in most basic, mild fertilizers, to fresh mulch, and you'll be ready to spread.
The county is offering another bounty to recyclers: a thank-you tree.
In a few weeks, Christmas tree recyclers will be able to claim their pine seedlings. The county has 3,400 on order to fulfill orders promised to recyclers.
Coupons also are available at Town Halls.
"The state has a goal to plant 1 million new trees this year," said Ridgely. "We'll be really pleased to see 3,400planted here as seedlings."
The seedlings, which will be between six and 12 inches tall, are arriving just in time. Planting should take place as soon after arrival as possible. April usually offers the optimum planting time for pine trees, he said.
The bare root treesshould be kept moist until planted. Plant the seedling as deep as its nursery soil line mark. If you dig too deep, the tree will suffocate. Too shallow and it will dehydrate.
Once planted, tamp the surrounding soil firmly and keep it well watered -- especially if the areais hit with a dry spring season.
Ridgely said county officials are extremely pleased with the success of the project and are eager to repeat it next year.
"We saved a lot of landfill land and got residents busy planting more trees," he said.
Northern Landfill, on Route 140 near Westminster, and Hoods Mill Landfill on Route 97, south of the Howard County line, are open from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. They also are open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.