Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
Eco-conscious consumers typically choose natural, non-artificial trees to use as Christmas trees. Most towns provide curbside pickup of those discarded trees after the holidays. They grind them up to use as mulch in their public spaces. This year, before you drag your tree to the curb, consider these options instead.
1. Make Your Own Mulch
Rather than "donating" your tree to your town, keep it and make your own mulch by cutting the branches up into small pieces. Pine tree mulch is especially valuable for its acidity. It can be used around your acid-loving plants like rhododendrons, azaleas, and blueberries.
2. Protect Your Perennial Plants
Gardeners in colder growing zones often have to deal with frost heave during the winter. Frost heave is caused by fluctuating temperatures and can often result in plants’ root balls being pushed out of the ground by the alternating freezing and thawing of the soil. Place the whole branches in your beds to act as insulation and keep more consistent temperatures in the soil to reduce the risk of frost heave.
3. Use It as Firewood
Once you’ve removed the branches, you can cut up the trunk and toss it on your woodpile to season and then be used as firewood. Pine trees contain a lot of creosote that can build up in your chimney resulting in chimney fires. Burn the trunks in your outdoor fire pit instead.
4. Use the Wood Ash in Your Garden
After you’ve burned your Christmas tree, don’t throw away those ashes. Spread them in your garden. Wood ash contains lime and potassium, nutrients plants need to grow and thrive. Or you can add the ashes to your composter to give your compost a nutrient boost.
5. Create a Shelter for Birds
Another good use for your Christmas tree is to make your yard more bird-friendly. Did you ever wonder how birds survive winter storms? They shelter in evergreens where the dense branches and needles protect them from wind and snow. Stand your tree up in your yard to provide shelter from the elements for birds living in the area. I lean my tree against the privacy fence in my backyard, but if your tree stand is sturdy enough to be outdoors, you can leave your tree in its base so that it can stand unsupported.
6. Create a Feeding Station for Birds
You can also hang bird feeders in the branches of your tree to provide a much-needed food source during the winter. This is a great place to hang those seed ornaments that are so popular during the holidays. Suet is also welcome in the winter when other food is scarce because it contains a lot of calories. Birds burn a lot of calories in the winter trying to stay warm.
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7. Create a Shelter for Wildlife
Your Christmas tree can also provide shelter for wildlife. Instead of standing it upright, remove the stand and lay it on its side. It will provide shelter as well as protection from predators for smaller animals like rabbits that are active in the winter.
8. Create Shelter for Fish
Avid fishermen know that one of the best places to catch fish is where a large branch or entire tree has fallen into the water. Fish, especially young ones, seek shelter there to avoid predators. Eventually, algae will start to grow on the tree, providing food for the fish hiding in the branches. Your Christmas tree can also provide shelter and food for fish. Contact your local parks department to find out if you can donate your tree to them to be placed in a local pond or lake. Don't try to place your tree yourself in a public pond or lake. Always let the experts decide where and how to place it.
9. Help a Zoo or Wildlife Organization
Zookeepers are constantly looking for ways to provide enrichment to their charges to keep them mentally and physically healthy. Contact your local zoo or wildlife organization and see if you can donate your Christmas tree for use as food or enrichment for the animals living there. Their cats may be larger than ours, but they still love to scratch.
10. Restore Sand Dunes at the Shore
Beach erosion is a big problem in many coastal areas. Sand that is dredged from the seafloor and then spread by heavy equipment rarely stays ashore after big storms. A better way to build sand dunes is to anchor them with discarded Christmas trees and fences. The sand naturally builds up behind the trees and fences and the resulting dunes are less likely to be washed away by large coastal storms. Contact coastal towns near you to find out if you can donate your used Christmas tree for dune restoration.
What Will You Do With Your Tree?
Once the gifts are gone from beneath the tree, the tree itself can become a gift to birds, wildlife, fish, or the environment. The most difficult part will be deciding where you want to gift your tree each year.
© 2019 Caren White
Caren White (author) on November 23, 2019:
Thanks Rebecca! I live in NJ, a tiny state. We work hard at keeping as much as possible out of our overflowing landfills.
Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on November 22, 2019:
I love these ideas. Thanks for reminding everyone to dispose of their Christmas tree in a sustainable way!