Skip to main content
Over the Garden Fence

Recycle or Repurpose your Christmas Tree

Just about now, you can see once-fresh Christmas trees sitting in yards or by curbs, waiting for the assigned pick-up date to be collected and mulched. This is one way to be sure your holiday tree gets recycled to the benefit of the environment. (And, if available in your area, be sure to mark your calendar to later take advantage of the community program and bring home some of the composted tree material for your landscape beds.) As you take the tree outdoors, collect those fallen needles and add them to your own compost pile. If your community does not recycle holiday trees, consider contacting wildlife organizations to see if they can benefit from using your tree. Sharing this information annually is a great reminder of how easy you can contribute.

Christmas tree recycling is one way we get to help the environment. There are more ways to continue to benefit from your tree in the home landscape. If you are feeding the birds, setting your tree up nearby gives the birds a place to sit while they take turns going to the feeder. This gives us more to watch and saves the birds from using energy to fly back to the trees and shrubs farther away during the cold winter. That tree also provides shelter from stormy weather. If you already have some evergreens in the landscape, you have already witnessed this survival technique. If you want to try this but have an artificial tree, there is likely a neighbor who had a fresh tree that you can get ahold of. Make it a family activity. You can buy or make your own suet balls to hang in the tree as another source of food and energy for the birds. You will begin to attract the larger birds that really enjoy suet and provide more entertainment. Other sources of food and another great family activity will be to pop some popcorn, buy a bag of cranberries and string them together to hang on the tree. Clear out the crisper drawer in the refrigerator and put out apple or orange slices that are too far gone for us to eat.

If your winter activities don’t include the birds, you still can use the tree in the home landscape. Cut the evergreen branches from the trunk and use them to cover tender perennials; you will be providing winter protection and hiding them from the rabbits early next spring when there is little else to eat. Any branches covering the perennials also will collect additional blowing leaves for even more protection. The soil will remain colder too, delaying early spring growth that could be caught by that late spring frost. What to do with the trunk? Save it for the 2020 garden season and plan on using it to support peas or beans or grow climbing flowers in the garden. By the end of the 2020 garden season, the trunk can be burnt in the outdoor fire pit.

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.