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Ways to Recycle Your Christmas Tree

Author:Terry Baldwin
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4 alpacas eating a recycled Christmas tree on a snow-covered field.
Alpacas happily munch on a used Christmas tree at Troopers Alpaca Ranch. Photo by Debbie DeGayner

What can you do with your real Christmas tree when it’s time to take it down? It did such a great job making your home feel merry, and it can still be useful after the holidays. We have some suggestions. But first, you have to get that tree out of the house.

If water remains in the stand, use a turkey baster to remove it.

Now tackle the tree. We're not fans of using plastic bags to dispose of trees. A better alternative is to spread a sheet on the floor, lay the tree on it, pull up the sides to wrap it, and drag it out the door. If you have a very large tree, trim off some branches with a lopper to reduce the size and weight.

Warning: Tree needles can clog your vacuum, so sweep those foot-stabbers up with a broom.

Now that your tree is outside, what can you do with it? You can recycle it if your community has a Christmas tree recycling program. If that's not an option, here are some alternatives.

Give it to alpacas & goats

If you live near an alpaca ranch or a farm with goats, share your used Christmas tree with the animals. Alpacas and goats love evergreen trees. They'll enjoy scratching their backs on branches and snacking on needles and bark. Just get the owner's permission, of course, and be sure to remove all decorations, especially tinsel.

Protect perennial plants and shrubs

Lay cut branches over frozen garden beds or underneath bushes. This will help keep the ground frozen if a winter thaw occurs. Those thaws are usually followed by more freezing weather and this freeze-thaw-freeze cycle can heave plants out of the ground. Bonus: Needles will drop and decay, fertilizing the soil. Pine needles also make a great mulch.

Create a bird feeder/shelter

Junco bird sitting on snowy fir tree branches
Photo by Bryan Hanson on Unsplash

A used Christmas tree makes a safe winter shelter for birds and other small animals. If you have the space, put the tree in an area that isn’t too windy. You can also put food out for the birds.

The Arbor Day Foundation has these suggestions for homemade bird feeders that you can hang on the tree:

  • Cover pine cones with peanut butter and bird seed. Hang with string.
  • Cut oranges in half, remove the fruit, and fill with bird seed. Place them on branches or hang by cutting holes on either side of the half and attaching string to make a basket.
  • Hang pieces of apples and pears.
  • Make suet ornaments by mixing suet with seed and shaping it into bars on wax paper. Stick a partly opened paper clip through each bar and freeze till solid. Then hang.

Plant it

If your Christmas tree is a living, potted tree, plant it. Obviously, if you live in a region with freezing winter weather, you'll need to wait till the ground thaws. Follow these tree-mulching guidelines after planting.

Can you burn used Christmas trees?

Evergreen trees are very sappy and should never be burned indoors. As for outdoors, know that dried needles burn quickly and can lead to lots of sparks, which could fly out of the fire pit and hurt someone or start another fire.

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