What to Do with Your Old Christmas Tree

Tree Care

Millions of Christmas trees go to the landfill every year, but this is not the only option. Explore environmentally friendly ways to dispose of your evergreen: recycle it through a city program, make your own mulch, enjoy a safe campfire, or create a wildlife refuge.

Twenty five to 30 million Christmas trees are bought every year in the United States, and up to 10 million end up in landfills a short month later. Imagine the space that millions of Christmas trees take up during the years they spend biodegrading. 

Think beyond the landfill this year: choose one of many ways to recycle, repurpose, or dispose of your tree that are practical and friendly to the environment. 

First, What Not to Do

You may be tempted to burn your Christmas tree once the holidays are past. However, you should not, under any circumstances, burn your tree in an indoor fireplace. 

Why not?

1. Sap and turpentine oils lingering on fresh pine, fir, and spruce trees can burn explosively and cause a serious fire hazard.

2. The evergreens used as Christmas trees produce high levels of creosote when burned. Creosote is a flammable chemical that will build up along the inside of your chimney. It can quickly ignite when flames or sparks reach it, causing a chimney fire in your home.

3. Dried needles burn quickly and fiercely. They send sparks that may land on your roof, other landscaping, or flammable objects inside your home.

The only safe way to burn a Christmas tree is to do it outside. Even then, you must be extremely careful. Keep a water hose handy!

City and Community Recycling

Cities and states across the country have their own Christmas tree recycling programs. Many places use discarded trees to create mulch for landscaping, bolster eroding coastlines and damaged dunes, and restore animal habitats. 

Some cities offer mulch or live trees in exchange for spent Christmas trees. For example, Miami-Dade County in South Florida and Osceola County in Central Florida collects used Christmas trees and grinds them into mulch. It then allows residents to pick up free mulch from the recycling site.

Check your city and county websites to determine how to recycle your tree and what you must do to participate. Some cities have designated curbside pickup days, while others will have drop-off sites.

Make Your Own Mulch

Skip the city drop-off and make your own pine straw mulch to use in your garden beds. Cut your tree’s branches into small pieces and spread them around the bases of perennial plants. Pine straw is an excellent insulator and will help protect your plants during cold weather.

Safe Burning

After removing the branches, use the trunk of your Christmas tree for firewood in an outdoor firepit. While it may take a few months for the tree to dry out completely, it can be chopped up and added to your firewood pile. Enjoy the gift your Christmas tree now offers in the form of fuel for a nice winter blaze.

As mentioned above, if you are burning more than just the trunk, be extremely careful. The oils in the tree boughs can spark and cause a larger fire than you expect. Make sure to burn small pieces at a time, have a hose handy, and make the fire in an open area. 

Food and Refuge for Wildlife

Repurpose your tree and give it back to the wildlife around you. Place the tree in the corner of the yard or garden to create a refuge for small animals. Hang bird treats on it and create a natural bird feeder. If your property has a pond or lake, anchor and sink the Christmas tree to create an underwater habitat.

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