Recycling Live Christmas Trees

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Don’t throw out the tree after the holidays — put it to work. Here are some ways to recycle a live Christmas tree.

  1. Mulch tender plants with recycled Christmas tree boughs.
    Gardeners know how important mulch, like straw, hay or crisp oak leaves, is for protecting plants through a harsh winter. But evergreen branches add a little extra punch to your plants’ protection. Just lay the branches in a crisscross pattern over tender perennial plants. Weave the stems together to keep them from blowing away on a windy day.

The branches will moderate the soil temperature, keeping everything nice and cold until it’s really time to warm up. Piled on top of other mulch such as leaves, they’ll prevent the bottom layer of mulch from blowing away. And branches catch and hold snow, which is a good insulator. Place evergreen branches over your garden anytime the ground is frozen, from late November to midwinter, after you’re done enjoying your Christmas tree indoors. Pick them up when it starts to warm up in spring.

  1. Repurpose your live Christmas tree in the garden by leaving it out for the birds.
    Your old Christmas tree is the perfect winter gift for your feathered friends. Anchor the tree securely in a deep bucket of sand. The branches are enough to provide cover from the winter weather, but if you want to add treats, strings of popcorn will be popular with birds. Hang the treats on the branches, but push them toward the middle of the tree so birds won’t be frightened by any swinging ornaments that move with the wind.
  2. Simmer some pine needle potpourri.
    You can keep enjoying that piney scent with a simmering potpourri. The idea is similar to mulling spices on the back burner during the holidays. Add water, lemon and orange rinds, a cinnamon stick, whole cloves and other spices. Cover them with water and simmer for hours to scent your home and drive away the January blues.
  3. Make coasters and trivets.
    This is a particularly nice project for young kids who are having a hard time saying goodbye to the tree and the Christmas season. Cut thin slabs off the trunk, sand them smooth and apply a thin coat of polyurethane to keep the sap off tables and glassware.
  4. Donate it to the zoo.
    If you live in an area with a zoo, see if they need discarded Christmas trees for the animals to play with and eat. Same goes for local nature centers, which often use the trees as shelter for birds or even fish. Note that our Peterborough Zoo has accepted leftover christmas trees from vendors in the past.
  5. Add needles to the compost.
    You can finally quit worrying about needles falling on the carpet and make use of your tree’s tendency to shed. Place the tree on a tarp until it’s done shedding and then pour the brown needles into the compost to enrich your soil for next year. As the needles are quite dry, layer them with wetter materials for faster decomposition.

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