Disposing of Cut Christmas Trees

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Not long after the presents are unwrapped, relatives are back home, and the outside Christmas lights end their merry twinkling, one more task is taking down the Christmas tree. For those, like me, who use a fake tree, the process is simple. We take down the ornaments, fold the tree like an umbrella, and store it away downstairs until next year.

Growing up my parents always got a fresh cut Christmas tree. Early in November, my dad and I would go to the nearby Christmas tree farm and tag our tree. We would then return once December arrived to cut down and haul the tree home. Since we lived in the country, disposing of the cut tree was simple. Even today for those living in town, most municipalities have a Christmas tree disposal day. Where you can throw out your cut Christmas tree and the city will pick it up. However, there can be a second life to our cut Christmas trees. Here are few things you can do with your tree, besides tossing it to the curb.

  1. Create a shelter for birds. Stake the tree up with a metal fence post near a bird feeder. Birds will use the evergreen foliage for cover as they dart back and forth to the bird feeder. If you have any outdoor housecats, do not to place the tree close to any birdfeeders that a stealthy feline could also use it as cover and attack the feeder.
  2. Turn the cut tree into food for wildlife that will be a source of winter entertainment. Strung popcorn, pinecones smeared with peanut and birdseed, strung cranberries, apple rings, and orange slices will entice winter mammals and birds. I always place a few suet feeders in my shrubs and trees during the winter.
  3. Cut off the branches and use them as winter mulch to protect herbaceous perennials. Then the bare trunk can be staked up or laid on the ground. Insects will go to work breaking down the trunk, which will serve as an excellent source of food and habitat for wildlife in the ensuing years.
  4. Use cut evergreen branches as decoration around the house. Outdoors the branches will remain green for weeks, even months. Indoors the evergreen foliage will hold its color for several days or weeks. Do not place foliage near any open burning heat sources.
  5. Several fishing clubs ask homeowners to bring their leftover cut Christmas trees to be used as fish attractors in local ponds and lakes. According to University of Illinois Extension educator, Rhonda Ferree, "Trees are connected by cable and anchored by concrete blocks and are then placed in 8- to 10-feet of water. The Christmas trees serve as places where small fish can hide from larger predator species. And, hopefully, the larger fish will gather around the trees in the area in hopes of an easy meal."
  6. If you have access to a wood chipper, you can shred the Christmas tree into mulch for your garden and landscape.
  7. Growing up back home, we would use our cut Christmas trees to create brush piles, which make for great wildlife habitat. Brush piles provide cover for small mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. Ideally, your brush pile should be six feet high and 15- to 20-feet in diameter. Locate brush piles away from buildings, preferably near a field border or woodland edge. Check with your local city ordinance or homeowners association before building a brush pile.
  8. You can use your tree as firewood if you season the wood properly. Needled evergreen trees contain lots of gum-like resin, which build up creosote deposits inside chimneys if the wood is not seasoned correctly. Research from the University of Georgia reveals that creosote build-up in chimneys is due to cool burning fires. Unseasoned (freshly cut) wood burns cooler due to its higher moisture content. As an example a fresh cut cord of oak contains 302 gallons of water. Season firewood by splitting, stacking, and covering for up to one year.