How To Recycle Your Christmas Tree After The Holidays

When the glow of the holidays is fading and pine needles begin to cover the floor, it’s time to re-purpose or recycle your Christmas tree.

recycle your christmas tree image Roughly 27 million live Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. each year and the most popular destination of a post-holiday tree is the community mulch pile. Many cities and towns offer curbside pick-up with the final destination a mulching center instead of a landfill.

Make sure that your Christmas tree is destined for the community mulch pile, and not for a landfill – it’s an incredible waste of a great asset. If your community doesn’t offer curbside pickup for mulching (or recycling in some other manner), and if you can’t drive the tree to a composting center, here are a few ideas on how to re-purpose your pine in your own backyard.

Even if you live on a small property, you can place your former Christmas tree at the edge of your yard or garden to create a small wildlife habitat. Birds, rabbits, squirrels and other small animals take shelter among the pine boughs during storms and some may even build nests there. Add an extra incentive for birds by sprinkling bird seed in and around the tree.

Pine boughs make excellent winter mulch for tender plants. Just cut a few from the tree and lay them over any tender plants for the duration of the winter. Pine boughs are also an excellent way to cover raised garden beds for the winter.

Read How to buy a Christmas tree

christmas tree wildlife barrier shade garden

My christmas tree overwinters at the edge of my shade garden to create a winter wildlife habitat. In the spring I chop it up for compost

Ground or chipped pine needles, twigs and branches make an excellent mulch for your garden. If you don’t have a wood chipper/shredder, use a hand pruner to trim the branches from the tree and scatter them where needed in your garden. The needles will eventually dry and fall off and work their way into the soil, helping to retain soil moisture. Pine needles also encourage growth of mycorrhizal fungi, which assist your plants’ roots in taking up water and nutrients. When the branches of the boughs dry out, break them into small pieces and leave them lay as mulch.

Trunks and heavier branches of old Christmas trees can serve a multitude of other uses, like:

  • decorative elements in your garden
  • teepee for a bean trellis
  • holding up row covers
  • supports for large flowering plants
  • the base for a new compost pile
  • an erosion barrier to re-route or hold back water

Birds and fish can benefit

Near Barrington, Illinois, the Heron Rookery at Baker’s Lake uses up to 400 recycled Christmas trees every year to attract Great Blue Herons, Black-Crowned Night Herons, Great Egrets and Cormorants. The birds use the trees as nesting material.

In many states and counties, the US Army Corps Of Engineers in association with local state agencies uses unsold and recycled Christmas trees to create habitat and shelter for fish in freshwater ponds and lakes. That’s an outstanding use of a natural resource which otherwise would have been wasted in a landfill. And of course it makes local anglers really happy.

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About Todd Heft

Todd Heft is an organic gardener and freelance garden writer who lives in the Lehigh Valley, PA and has gardened for most of his life. When he isn't writing or reading about organic gardening, he's gardening. His first book, "Homegrown Tomatoes: The Step-By-Step Guide to Growing Delicious Organic Tomatoes In Your Garden" is available on Amazon now. Google
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10 Responses to How To Recycle Your Christmas Tree After The Holidays

  1. Joe Helms says:

    Don’t pine needles add to the acidity of the soil if you use too much? I thought I heard that somewhere or other.

    I just moved to a new house surrounded by huge pines, so I have no shortage of needles – but I was conerned about using too many on any beds.

    To Louis’s comment – most people buy trees from farms, which are replaced each year. It’s hardly like deforestation, is it? Or are there aspects to the farming that I am missing?

    • Todd Heft says:

      Joe:
      It takes a lot of pine needles, years worth, to create any notable change in acidity. That’s only a concern if your soil is on the acid side of the pH scale already. More importantly, pine needles are fantastic for building up beneficial fungi in the spoil and to improve your soil’s ability to hold water. As you know, some plants love acid soils, and others… not so much. Know what you’re planting and what kind of soil that plant grows best in.

      • Joe Helms says:

        Ok, that makes some sense. So a few bits from a Christmas tree once a year won’t do too much.

        On the other hand, the soil around the 30yr old white pine I cut down last fall is likely a different story… I know the nearby blueberries are loving it!

        Thanks for the reply!

    • Sharon Klein says:

      Kinda like people who don’t want you to use paper so they can save trees. They don’t understand farming and cash crops.

  2. Aloysius says:

    i love christmas great post

  3. Tamara says:

    God, I feel like I should be takin notes! Great work

  4. Louis says:

    Can we please stop killing these trees. I love Christmas and all but I prefer artificial trees. Consider using them too. it will save our forests and trees. Thanks everybody. If you decide to keep using regular trees, recycling them as outlined here is great for the environment. I am Houston tree specialist and simple steps like these would go a long way.

    • flyn says:

      Don’t these trees come from tree farms? Our family chopped our own down at a family farm that’s been doing it for years. They keep planting more and it must be sustainable since they’ve been prosperous even after 13 years.

      Scaring people into thinking ALL real Christmas trees are hurting the forest isn’t right…. Wouldn’t it be better to tell people to know where their trees are coming from instead?

  5. Windy Daley says:

    Great ideas!