Re-purpose your Christmas tree

If you decorate with a fresh-cut Christmas tree you also face the annual question of what to do with it after the holiday. Here are some ideas, updated from a January 2011 post, to help you re-purpose your Christmas tree, rather than casting it off as trash.

1. After dragging the tree outside, trim still-green branches off its trunk and use these to mulch dormant perennials. The branches from our tree become winter mulch for spring-blooming bulbs, while any evergreen boughs used in outdoor decorations – such as those in the photo below from 2011- help protect dormant perennials from frost heaving.


2. Turn your 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.


3. Use some cut evergreen boughs as the base layer for a new compost pile. The natural form of the branches allow for air circulation at the base of the pile, which encourages the compost process. Cut branches can also be placed atop a full compost bin or pile. They might discourage winter rummaging by local animal residents. In the spring these same branches could become the base of a new compost pile.

4. If you have wooded areas on your property, use your discarded tree as part of a small bird and animal shelter by mounding fallen branches over your no-longer-needed tree.

5. If you cut boughs off the trunk, the trunk can be used as a bird feeder or bird house post, or be cut into smaller sections for use in an outdoor fire pit.

But before turning your tree into a wildlife shelter or mulch mound, consider enlisting some help 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. While your helper holds the tree in place you can view it from different vantage points to get an idea of how a permanently planted tree /shrub will look.


Garden-related plastic waste – reuse it, recycle it.

Ahhh, spring … the season of renewal and replanting; of purchasing plants for your vegetable garden, foundation beds, or flower gardens and large bags of potting soil, compost, or mulch. The vast majority of the products come housed in plastic. By the end of spring, active gardeners may be responsible for mounds of plastic ‘waste’ – nursery pots in all shapes and sizes that most municipal recycling programs do not accept, and empty plastic bags. What does one do with all this garden-related plastic waste? Reuse it; recycle it.

It is easy to think you are ‘doing good’ by tossing plastic nursery pots into the recycle bin … but don’t. Most are made of black, previously recycled plastic, which most municipal recycling programs do not accept. Environmentally disposing of plastic nursery pots is a bit more involved. I first reported on this topic – Reusing & Recycling Plastic Pots – in the May/June 2012 issue of Connecticut Gardener and in a Reuse, Recycle Plastic Nursery Pots post on May 29, 2012. The information remains valid and bears repeating.

In Connecticut, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) currently suggests Nursery Pots and Trays (horticultural) be sanitized in a 1/10 chlorine bleach to water solution before reusing, or recycling them to an interested garden club or nursery. Some garden centers and other plant retailers will take pots back from their customers. Make it a practice to ask, at the point of purchase.

Used nursery pot collection bin at Ballek's Garden Center.

Used nursery pot collection bin at Ballek’s Garden Center.

I am fortunate to have two local resources for pot recycling. Ballek’s Garden Center has a large plastic pot collection bin. They wash and reuse some and donate others to local garden clubs and groups. Staehly Farms likewise accepts nursery pots and trays. They clean and reuse some and send the rest to a recycling program they have access to through a wholesaler.

I use a multi-pronged approach to deal with the garden-related plastic ‘waste’ from my own gardening and my garden design and maintenance clients.

I save any sturdy pots suitable for sharing transplants from my gardens to family or friends; or that I might reuse for seedlings, as liners in ornamental pots, or for other purposes. Sturdy nursery pots are good for storing plant tags or gloves, scooping from large bags of potting soil, and storing/carrying firewood for the outdoor fire pit. Pots I cannot use go to one of the resources noted above, both in south-central CT. If you live in northwestern CT, Briarwoods Farm ( is looking for used nursery pots.

Being un-nerved by the number of plastic bags I end up with from mulch, compost, or soil purchases I found ways to reuse these as well,. I store these folded bags in a plastic nursery pot until needed:

  • To protect me from poison ivy when pulling these vines from garden beds. I sink my hand/arm into the bag, grab the vine, carefully fold the bag down over the vine as I pull the vine out – trying to get all the roots. I then seal the bag for disposal into the trash.
  • To collect invasive plant material such as Japanese stilt grass, small bittersweet vines, or any weedy material I don’t want in the compost pile or elsewhere on my property. Clear plastic bags are perfect for this. Once bagged, I leave the invasive material to bake in the hot sun for a few days – just to make sure it is actually dead – before tossing it in the trash.
  • As pot sleeves for stacked clay and ceramic pots. One flattened bag between each stacked pot helps prevent the pots from chipping and sticking together.

    Save plastic bags from purchased compost, potting soil, or mulch to separate stacked clay and ceramic pots.

    Save plastic bags from purchased compost, potting soil, or mulch to separate stacked clay and ceramic pots.

  • To protect car surfaces when transporting plants.
  • To hold large root balls of plants dug up to share with other gardeners.

Note: do not reuse plastic that housed chemicals – organic or non-organic.

Finding ways to reuse garden-related plastic helps remove some plastic from the waste stream or, at the very least, uses things like compost bags multiple times before they get tossed.These are small, but valuable, steps every gardener can take to ease the environmental impact of garden-related plastic waste.

How do you reuse/recycle garden-related plastic?

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