Officials in the municipal waste business extol their prompt curbside pickups and recycling services all the time. Rarely do they brag about the aroma of their trade.
They get that chance this time of year as Baltimore City and Baltimore County run Christmas tree recycling programs that make mulch for the garden, save space in the landfill -- and emit a fragrance worthy of a car air freshener.
"The smell is so wonderful out in that parking lot when they're mulching those trees," said Kurt L. Kocher, spokesman for the city Department of Public Works. "In the middle of winter, to smell these pine chips and grab a bag of mulch and take it home with you, it's really very nice. ... You just want to grab a little bag and use it for potpourri."
City and county residents who take their trees to one of several recycling centers may bring home bags and truck beds full of shredded pine.
Trees collected curbside also will be turned into mulch, prized by gardeners because it returns nutrients to the soil, helps the ground retain water, holds down weeds and gives the garden a finished look.
In addition to giving mulch to residents, city and county work crews also will use the mulch in community gardens, parks and flower beds.
Leslie Goldsmith, a member of the Little Garden Club, uses so much mulch on her 1-acre Roland Park yard -- she has a ton delivered every year and uses a wheelbarrow to spread it around her hydrangeas and terraced gardens -- that she doesn't bother with the city giveaway.
"For me, it would be a drop in the bucket," she said.
But she applauds the city and county for keeping the trees out of the landfill and making one of her favorite garden products available to residents for free.
"I love the smell of really good mulch. I just love it," she said. "It means things are going to grow now."
Last year, Baltimore County collected about 40,700 trees and made about 590 tons of mulch, said Joe Pistorio, spokesman for the county Bureau of Solid Waste Management. The city ground up about 92 tons of mulch last year, Kocher said.
To be recycled, trees must be free of all decorations, hooks and stands, and should not be wrapped in plastic.
In the city, trees will be collected curbside from Jan. 9 through Feb. 1 on the second trash collection day of the week. Trees should be placed in the same location as trash and set out no later than 7 a.m.
City residents can take trees to Polytechnic Institute, 1400 W. Cold Spring Lane, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Anyone interested in taking mulch home should bring bags or containers.
Baltimore residents also are encouraged to put cardboard gift boxes, tissue paper and nonfoil wrapping paper out with their paper recycling.
In the county, work crews will pick up trees from single-family homes and townhouses -- but not apartments -- between Jan. 6 and Jan. 25. Residents are asked to put trees at the curb no later than Jan. 19.
The county will only pick up trees left at the curb, even if trash is collected from alleys.
County residents also may drop off trees at three locations: Western Acceptance Facility in Halethorpe, 4500 block of Hollins Ferry Road; Baltimore County Resource Recovery Facility in Cockeysville, 10300 York Road; and Eastern Sanitary Landfill Solid Waste Management Facility in White Marsh, 11500 block of Pulaski Highway.
The Halethorpe and Cockeysville locations are open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. The White Marsh location is open from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Trees may be dropped off starting Thursday. There is no end date for the service.