Christmas is over and the annual question arises: when do you toss the tree? Do you rush yours out of the house by New Year's, wait till after the first of the year, or do you put it off till all the needles fall off? (We don't judge.)
Whenever you commit to taking down your live tree you'll need to decide what to do with it, and you have options besides kicking it to the curb. Here are the best ways to dispose of or repurpose organic holiday decorations in an environmentally friendly manner. Commercial Brush Chipper
After the holidays:How to sustainably dispose of real Christmas trees
Kicking it to the curb is still an option, just do it mindfully. Make sure your municipality has a tree recycling program with curbside pickup or a drop-off station. There they'll get mulched for use elsewhere. Some locations may even offer the mulch for sale or for free.
Please make sure all decorations and tree stands have been removed. Flocked trees, those dusted with a synthetic material that looks like snow, cannot be recycled this way.
If your local waste management company does not recycle trees consider another option to avoid your tree ending up in a landfill.
If you have a garden, why give away perfectly organic material? Mulch has a variety of uses around homes and yards. You can put it around the base of trees or over gardens as an insulator, a weed controller and a source of moisture to help plants withstand cold temperatures and to help prevent soil erosion, plus it looks nice.
The needles go right down as they are. Pine needles dry quickly and decompose slowly, making them a good moisture-free mulch for ground-covering crops, according to This Old House. Cut the branches into small 1 or 2-inch pieces to use as mulch. Or you can run the needle-less branches one-by-one through a chipper-shredder. You can use the pine-scented chips and sawdust you get out the other end as-is or leave the tree mulch in piles in the yard and wait until it eventually breaks down into nutrient-rich compost. If you already have a compost pile, just toss it on there.
A one to two-inch layer is great for garden beds, or go deeper if you want to make a chipped-wood garden path.
The trunk may be too big to break up or run through a chipper-shredder but you can dry it out for kindling and firewood, use it as a stake for flowers or beans, or cut it up into little 2-inch medallions to use as landscape edging in flower beds or along walkways. Branches make great plant stakes.
Pine isn't the best firewood but it's useful for outdoor fires or firepits. If you plan to use it inside, save it to use next year so it's well-seasoned.
Winter is tough for birds. You can help them out by putting your tree in your yard — either on its side or in a heavy pot, with all decorations and hooks removed — and "decorating" it with food. Spread peanut butter on a pine cone and dip it in birdseed. Thread popcorn on a string. Got some apples, pears, orange slices or other fruit that's a little too old for you? The birds will love it, cut 'em in half and hang them with string. Or just hang bird feeders on it. The birds get fed and you get a beautiful Disney scene in your yard.
If you don't want to put the whole tree out there cut off some branches, cover them in butter, margarine or peanut butter, roll them in bird seed and hang those up instead.
Used trees also can be perfect for small animals seeking shelter from the cold. Just lie it down somewhere in your yard that isn't too exposed. While you may not think you want to offer a free place to stay for squirrels, mice and snakes, you'd probably rather they find someplace safe to stay that wasn't in your attic or garage.
When spring comes around, or what Floridians call spring, you can mulch it then.
If you have goats, your Christmas tree problems are over.
“They go ape over it,” said Alyssa Belanger, who owns Slightly Off Course farm in Ashburnham, Massachusetts with her husband. “[Goats] get super bored in the winter because they’re foragers and there’s nothing to eat but their hay and grain. They love the holidays as much as we do.”
The pine needles contain nutrients, antioxidants and vitamin C, the sap acts as a natural dewormer, and they keep the animals entertained in otherwise boring winter months.
Got a lake or pond on your property? Weigh it down and toss it in, or break it up and drop smaller, anchored bundles of branches. Make sure your tree is chemical-free and all decorations and hooks have been removed. You may need to check for town or city permission first.
When you sink trees into water bodies, you make the aquatic habitat more complex and provide places for aquatic species to flourish, which increases overall biodiversity. The branches offer sheltering habitats for fish and nursery areas for juvenile fish. They also provide a habitat for aquatic insects, something young fish need a lot of.
If you live in the Panhandle and don't mind a bit of a drive. the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers in Mobile, Alabama is asking for Christmas tree donations to sink into Hartwell Lake.
There are a lot of uses for round discs of wood you didn't have to pay for. Put them under your plant pots as risers to provide drainage and air circulation and to reduce pests. Make coasters, ornaments, trivets jewelry, or mixed-media artwork, just let any sap dry out first and varnish or coat them with polyurethane afterward.
If you really want to keep the Christmas feel going you can save some pine needles in little cloth bags as fragrant sachets. Use them in the backs of drawers, on shelves in your closet, or give them to friends.
OK, this one isn't as likely for the casual Christmas-tree-owner. But for years in Nueces County, Texas, the county collected Christmas trees to restore the dunes along Padre Island, arranging them in a specific pattern to catch and hold sand. Within about four months the trees were nearly covered in sand with beach grasses growing to anchor it all in place.
Cities in New York and New Jersey used the same method to rebuild dunes along their shorelines after getting hammered by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Can you replant your Christmas tree? Now we're talking recycling.
But your best bet is if you planned ahead and bought one with the root ball intact and well-watered. Your chances also improve the farther north in Florida you live. While we do have Christmas tree farms here, the Sunshine State isn't famous for its conifers.
Professional Wood Crusher You'll need to water it carefully while it's in the house, and take care when you plant it and afterward to help it transition back to the cold weather after your toasty living room. This Old House has some tips.