Christmas Tree Recycling for a Greener Post-Holiday
While Epiphany or Candlemas signal the official end of the Christmas season, many revelers take down the decorations and pitch the tree right after New Year’s Day. Some, even earlier. So, what’s the best way to be a responsible citizen when disposing of a fresh-cut Christmas tree?
The environmentally sound choice is to try and repurpose the tree and to keep it out of a landfill, where it will produce methane as it decomposes. Recycled trees can be chopped into firewood, ground into mulch, replanted, or even sunk to the bottom of freshwater lakes to create fish habitats.
Christmas trees to create wildlife and aquatic habitats
On the Chesapeake Bay, Easton, Maryland town crews have collected discarded Christmas trees for years to create safe nesting habitats for waterfowl. Discarded trees and greenery from curbside pickup in this community benefit black ducks, snowy egrets, and red-winged blackbirds.
In your backyard, create your own wildlife habitat by making a brush pile with a discarded Christmas tree as the base. The tree’s needles will brown and fall in a few months, so add twigs, logs and leaves in a mound or tepee shape. Use the largest, sturdiest trunks or limbs at the bottom to create entrances at ground level.
A brush pile provides food and cover for small animals such as rabbits and quail. The pile also creates winter food and shelter for small birds such as sparrows, towhees and wrens. Not all communities allow brush piles, so check local rules and ordinances. If you plan to use a cut tree or its boughs in the yard as garden mulch or protection, just keep in mind that Christmas trees are usually sprayed with pesticides on the tree farm.
In other parts of Maryland, DNR fishery staff submerge discarded Christmas trees to make “fish attractors” and natural reefs. Once submerged, underwater trees, brush and limbs become home to aquatic insects, which feed small fish. In turn, the small fish feed larger fish. However, don’t just toss discarded trees at marked fish attraction sites. Biologists chose which trees go where.
Replanting a live Christmas tree
If you bought a live tree intending to replant it, this makes for a year-round wildlife habitat while improving the home landscape or value while providing a windbreak. Do your homework and make sure the tree is appropriate for a northeastern climate. Some experts warn that few replanted Christmas trees flourish when planted in the yard.
Disposing of trees in the DC, MD and VA region
In the Washington, DC area, many municipalities offer convenient curbside pickup for discarded trees and greens. Check December, January and February normal trash collection and recycling days. Arlington County will have a special curbside pickup, while residents of Fairfax County must schedule a pickup after January 12. Prince William and Loudon counties have several drop off locations.
Consult local web sites and circulars for more information. If you live in an apartment, townhouse or condominium community, check with property management or the homeowner’s association.
For more ideas and information, see the National Christmas Tree Association’s page on tree recycling: