Recycle your Christmas tree into the landscape

Removing the branches from Christmas trees and layering them over bulbs and perennials keeps the soil consistently cold, reducing the risk of early sprouting and winter damage. Photo by Melinda

Don’t drag that Christmas tree to the curb to be hauled away by the trash collectors.  Give it a second, even third life, in your landscape. No live Christmas tree?  Don’t worry.  I’m sure your friends and neighbors will share theirs.

Move your locally grown Christmas tree outdoors after the holidays. Avoid trees imported from other states that may host invasive insects that can infest your landscape and nearby Christmas tree farms. Your local municipality or Department of Natural Resources has more information on any threats and disposal recommendations for your area.

Use your cut Christmas tree to protect evergreens in your landscape from winter winds and sun. They make excellent windbreaks while shading sensitive plants in your landscape. Strategically place your discarded tree on the windward side of rhododendron, boxwood, and other broadleaf evergreens to reduce problems with winter burn. Place it on the south side of these plants to shade them from the drying winter sun.

Or remove the branches and use them as winter mulch over bulbs and perennials. Layer the boughs over the plants and soil to keep the soil consistently cold. This reduces the risk of early sprouting and winter damage that can occur during winter thaws.

Or set the tree in the landscape for a bit of added greenery. Secure it in a snow pile or use stakes and guy wires in milder climates where the soil is not frozen. The birds will enjoy the added shelter and you will enjoy watching these visitors to your landscape.

Then consider adding a bit of food for your feathered visitors. Decorate the trees with fruits, berries, and seeds the birds can enjoy. Stringing cranberries and popcorn is a fun family activity and makes an attractive outdoor garland. Slices of oranges on colorful yarn and homemade bird ornaments can complete the adornments.

Sweep up the fallen needles that were under your tree indoors and use them as mulch in the garden. Place them directly on the soil or atop the snow. As the snow melts, the needles will be right where they belong. And don’t worry, they will not make the soil too acidic.  In fact, as they break down, they add organic matter to the soil.

As spring arrives, consider chipping and shredding your tree into mulch for trees and shrubs or pathways in the landscape. No chipper? You and your neighbors may want to rent a chipper to shred these and other prunings for use as mulch in your landscapes.

And, if this is not possible, check for recycling resources in your community. Many municipalities have special pickups for Christmas trees. These are chipped, shredded and made available for citizens to use in their landscapes.

Lake communities often sink the discarded trees to the bottom of lakes and ponds to provide habitat for the fish. Another great way to give your tree a second life.

And once you discover the value of this free resource you may find yourself collecting a few more from the neighborhood. However, your family may ask that you wait until dark to drag your evergreen treasures back home.

About Melina Myers
Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including the recently released Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2nd Edition and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” instant video and DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Myers’ website is