What to do with live Christmas tree after the holidays

tree cookies hanging from woody vine

Anyone can make their holiday season a little more earth friendly with a new family tradition: recycling the tree!

Put it on the curb. The easiest way to properly dispose of your tree, most waste collection programs allow residents to recycle holiday trees by placing them at the curb for pickup to be mulched. Be sure to remove all your decorations first! If this is not available where you live, contact your nearest recycling center. Holiday trees are biodegradable and if you can chip your own, it will be a welcome winter scarf for your overwintering trees and shrubs. 

Create a bird sanctuary. Finding shelter and food may be difficult for birds in winter months, and an evergreen tree perched in the backyard will be a welcoming refuge. Place the tree out of the path of the wind and anchor it to a fence post or t-post. As winter hits, birds change their food source from mostly insects to berries or seeds. It's fun to string up some treats for the birds: popcorn, pine cones smeared with peanut butter and sunflower seeds, cranberries, apple rings, suet balls and orange slices all work great.  

Trim next year’s tree. The Arbor Day Foundation suggest sawing the tree trunk into tree cookies to making coasters, or drill a hole in the slices to make keepsake ornaments the next holiday season. Start a tradition of making your own family ornaments that are sure to bring back past holiday cheer from year to year. Visit my Flowers, Fruits and Frass blog for nature inspired ornament ideas using tree cookies.  

Start your spring garden. Illinois Extension horticulture educator, Richard Hentschel, uses the holiday tree as a trellis to grow his spring peas. Peas climb three to six feet using tendrils that finds the branches and takes hold while providing for vines to grow vertically. Zip tied to a fence post, this trellis system would be ideal for twining annual vines. Colorful waterfalls of red cardinal vine or fragrant purple hyacinth beans to lure the hummingbirds to the backyard could already be a step closer with this natural trellis system. The family can seed, grow and water the vine this summer.  

Donate holiday trees to a local pond to provide habitat for fish. Adding cover provides nutrition for smallest of fish, insects, crayfish, and snails and with this, the larger fish follow. The tree must be anchored and submerged. If you have a pond on your property, a small groves of trees have added benefits, so talk with family and friends or reach out to your social media community to enhance your pond’s fish habitat.