Fresh Cut Christmas Trees–Repurposed

Fresh-cut Christmas trees frequently become a municipal disposal issue during early January. But you can ease your local waste burden by following a few simple steps. The first two are part of my gardening in Connecticut winter routine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA First, I often turn my former Christmas tree into an outdoor shelter for feathered friends.  It’s relatively easy to either lean the tree against a bird feeder pole, an outside deck railing, or some other vertical support near where birds feed during the winter. (If a snow pile is handy you can simply pound the base of the trunk into the pile and pack the snow tightly around the trunk. If it stays cold the tree can stand in this spot for quite a while.) Birds waiting their turn at the feeding station can find refuge in the tree, as can those seeking a roosting place while they ingest seed. To provide even more feeding stations hang stale bread, suet-filled pine cones, or orange or apple slices from the tree.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA A second idea is to trim still-green branches off the trunk of the tree and use these – or, as shown in the photo, any other cut evergreen boughs – to mulch dormant perennials.  Sometime later in the winter when I need a little outdoor time, I will also trim the tree’s branches to spread over other dormant perennials. This adds an extra layer of protection from soil heaving during the thaw/freeze cycles of winter and early spring.

The branchless trunk usually gets added to other collected brush for burning in our outdoor enclosed fire pit (don’t burn fresh-cut Christmas tree parts inside – too much sap).  Parents: you can give your kids a good demonstration of just how flammable Christmas trees are by gathering the kiddies around an outdoor fire pit while you ignite dried Christmas tree boughs – good way to make them understand why cut trees need constant water and should not remain indoors too long.

Don’t have an outside fire pit? Use the tree and other brush to create a small creature shelter in the neighboring woods. Then, after a snowfall, check out and identify any tracks left by the creatures using the brush shelter.

But before turning your tree into a wildlife shelter or mulch mound, consider enlisting some help in moving the tree to locations in your yard and gardens that might look better planted with an evergreen or conifer shrub. Granted, you might not want to try this with a large tree, but one that’s about 5 feet tall could act as a nice stand in for any future planting. Think about it … how often do you have the opportunity to use a shrub stand-in prior to purchasing any new shrub?

Evergreen boughs can go in a compost pile – just don’t expect them to decay quickly. If planning a new compost pile, these boughs could become your base layer.

I’ve also heard – but not implemented – suggestions to turn the branchless trunk into a bird house post or, if handy with woodworking tools, you could mimic the Christmas-tree-turned-artsy-stool repurposing method reported by Bonnie Alter at

Cutting and using a locally-grown Christmas tree is a tradition in my family and many others. This practice supports local business and results in less transportation compared with trees trucked in from far away. Therefore, why not also try to re-use parts of the tree locally rather than sending it off to some landfill for burial?

If you simply cannot find another way to re-use your fresh-cut tree then find out how your local trash disposal or municipal waste department handles them. Let’s hope they either chip collected trees for mulch or find another environmentally sound reuse like the many listed at the National Christmas Tree Association’s  website.

For a more light-hearted and poetic look at ways to repurpose your tree, read my Garden Zone version of Clement Clark Moore’s “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

And … do tell … what becomes of your fresh-cut Christmas tree?

9 comments for “Fresh Cut Christmas Trees–Repurposed

  1. January 5, 2011 at 7:22 am

    Joene, All great ideas, especially using the tree as a stand in for a potential new conifer once the ground is warm even to dig. Genius!

  2. joenesgarden
    January 5, 2011 at 9:01 am

    Thanks, Debbie. Occasionally a good idea strikes.

  3. January 5, 2011 at 10:33 am

    We had friends in Colorado who saved the whole tree all year (left it to brown behind the barn). Then on Dec. 21 each year they would hold a solstice party and, with dozens of friends, build a bonfire, offer prayers to the old tree, sing, chant, recite poetry, thank the tree for its life, and toss it on the fire. Very new-agey but oddly enchanting. Then they would go cut a new one and put it up for the holiday and everyone ate and drank and partied. I like all your ideas… more practical!

  4. joenesgarden
    January 5, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Now that’s a ritual … one that sparked another idea. The trunk of the previous year’s tree could be the Festivus pole the following December 23. Of course, those who never watched Seinfield won’t have a clue!

  5. January 6, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    Usually we recycle it at our local grocery store. The municipality here runs a programs that collects old Christmas trees and chips them, then offers the chips to residents.

    This year, with all the moving we did right around Christmas, we never got around to having a tree. Unless you count the small paper one resting on the mantel, an old art project of my daughters.

    Christine in Alaska, no Christmas tree

  6. January 6, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    Joene, I also like to get a local Christmas tree (some years, I just cut down some young evergreen that has grown up too close to the deck or to the garden — as local as you can get!). Because more than half my property is wildlands, I just haul the Christmas tree off into an old dry streambed in the woods just beyond the driveway where it gets left to provide habitat while it decomposes.

  7. joenesgarden
    January 6, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    Christine, a small paper tree is better than no tree and there’s always next year. Hope your life is settling down a bit after your move.

  8. joenesgarden
    January 6, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    Jean, do you ever head back to check for tracks leading into your tree habitat? It would be fun to try to figure out what creatures use it.

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