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Recycle Your Christmas Tree

Written by Rhonda Ferree, retired horticulture educator

Once the Christmas holiday is over, the chore of taking down and disposing of the cut Christmas tree remains. However, Christmas tree disposal does not have to be a problem, because there are several environmentally sound recycling methods available.

People who maintain bird feeders can help the winter residents by creating a small windbreak with a single tree. Put the old Christmas tree on the northwest side of bird feeders that are exposed to the wind. The tree will provide protection for the birds and also help keep birdseed from blowing away. However, don't place the tree too close to the feeder, so it does not become a hiding place for predators, such as cats.

After Christmas, my family likes to move our cut Christmas tree to the herb garden and decorate it for the birds and wildlife to use all winter. To do this, place your tree in the yard, anchor it with a steel fencepost, and then decorate it as a food source for wildlife. This can lengthen your family's enjoyment of the tree and attract an assortment of birds, chipmunks, and squirrels to your yard. The family will enjoy this fun project as well.

Decorate the tree with garlands of edible bird food. String popped popcorn and cranberries on double thread using a simple sewing needle. Add multicolored dry cereal for added interest. Then add some ornaments for the birds to eat, such as pinecones smeared with peanut butter and sunflower seeds, apple rings and orange slices.

Recycled Christmas trees provide excellent cover material for small mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish. Rural areas near field borders and woodland areas are good locations for brush piles if you own the land. For obvious reasons, do not illegally dump a tree along these areas. Christmas trees are often placed in lakes and ponds to provide cover to fish and other aquatic species. If you don't have such a spot, check with your neighbors and friends.

Another environmentally sound way to dispose of your tree is to chip it up with a chipping machine to use as landscaping mulch. The mulch can be used in the garden or planting beds to help reduce weed problems, modify soil temperature, and help to retain moisture.

Finally, remember that these trees are not allowed in landfills and therefore cannot be put out with the trash. Call your city building to see if there is a tree pickup program.

Properly disposing of Christmas trees will benefit Illinois' natural resources and will help to save landfill space. The above methods are not only safe for the environment, but they can provide a source of enjoyment for you, your family, and your friends.



As horticulture educator, Rhonda Ferree inspired citizens in local communities to grow their own food and improve their home landscapes. She focused on high quality, impactful programs that taught homeowners how to create energy-efficient landscapes using sustainable practices that increase property values and help the environment.

After 30 years with University of Illinois Extension, Rhonda retired in 2018. She continues to share her passion for horticulture related topics as “Retro Rhonda” on social media.

ILRiverHort is a blog that helps people connect to nature and grow.