11 Ways to Reuse or Recycle a Christmas Tree

Put Your Christmas Tree to Good Use!

January 4, 2021
Christmas Ornament

Twelfth Night is the traditional day on which many people take down their Christmas tree and decorations. To prolong the holiday spirit and also give back to wildlife, how about putting that old Christmas tree in your own backyard? Here are 10 other ways to let nature help you recycle that tree!

January 5 is a less-known holiday called Twelfth Night—the eve of Epiphany (January 6). Traditionally, this marked the end of the Christmas holiday season, and the day on which many people took down their Christmas tree! According to folklore, it was bad luck to leave it up past Twelfth Night (which probably had something to do with dry needles being a huge fire hazard!).

This past Christmas, we enjoyed the scent of real evergreen in the home and decorating our tree with ornaments and lights. If you did the same … What do you do with it now that the Christmas season is over?

Sure, you could just bring it out to the curb or chuck it into a brush pile, but what about trying something new this year? Here are 11 ideas from Almanac editors and readers alike. Add your ideas in the comments, too!

11 Ways to Reuse or Recycle a Christmas Tree

Here are some excellent ideas for recycling that tree:

  1. A Christmas tree makes for a lovely habitat for small birds such as chickadees and finches during the winter months, especially on cold nights and during storms. Evergreens provide important shelter. Prop it up near a bird feeder, another tree, or against a fence. Or, just lay it in your garden for animals of all sorts to enjoy.
     
  2. Trim the branches from the tree, and saw the trunk into several pieces. Tie the pieces together and store the bundle in the cellar. These logs will make for an aromatic Yule log to use in your fireplace next Christmas Eve.
     
  3. Use the branches from your Christmas tree as mulch, giving perennials and shrubs extra root protection from winter weather. Just put the cut branches in the garden and they’ll hold moisture in and help build the soil, as well as provide shelter for pollinators and wildlife.
     
  4. Redecorate your tree as an outdoor bird feeder. String it with a popcorn and cranberry garland or other bird-friendly goodies. Add pine cones filled with peanut butter or homemade suet, too!
     
  5. Use boughs from your Christmas tree to shade broad-leaved evergreen shrubs from the harsh winter sun and to block out gnawing pests.
     
  6. Building a house or know someone who is? Nail the tree to the peak of the roof rafters, to bring good luck.
     
  7. Sew scraps of fabric together and fill them with Christmas tree needles. These make fragrant balsam sachets that can freshen drawers and closets. See how to make (lavender) sachets here.
     
  8. Collect trees from several neighbors and line them up along your driveway or sidewalk as a windbreak. Anchor them to cement blocks, and bury the blocks in the snow.
     
  9. Pile Christmas tree boughs around tree trunks to discourage neighborhood dogs from doing you-know-what.
     
  10. Use dried-out sprigs to ignite kindling in your woodstove or fireplace.
     
  11. Give the tree to a friend or neighbor who has a woodchipper.

Of course, you can simply leave the trees in your backyard if you have the room! Over the winter and fall, the trees will decompose. Young Christmas trees, particularly spruce and balsam fir, have very low rot resistance and break down quickly, adding richness to the soil—just as nature intended!

Did you know that Twelfth Night was also the last day for the burning of the Yule log—an ancient tradition which predates the Christmas tree tradition. Learn more about Yule and the burning of the Yule log.

After Epiphany and the end to Christmas merrymaking, folks returned to the regular worklife. Read about Distaff Day and Plough Monday.

Reader Comments

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Uses for an "end of life" fresh cut Christmas tree

Our local animal rehabilitation (wildlife) will take them if you drop them off (cleaned of decorations).

Donate Trees

There is a goat farm near my home that asks for donations of old Christmas trees every year. Apparently, the goats love to snack on the trees. The farmer says, “it’s like an ice cream cone for them.”

Artificial tree

Are there any ideas to recycle an artificial Christmas tree???? Ours is dropping needles so we are going to replace it and I was wondering if anybody knows what we can do with the old one other than leaving it for garbage pick up.

Total use of your tree

My kids hated to see any Christmas tree discarded, so we put ours outside with bird treats such as pine cones rolled in peanut butter and bird seeds, slices of orange and apple strung on the branches, popcorn and cranberries as mentioned in the article and suet melted with bird seeds cooled and cut into shapes and placed in net onion bags and tied onto the branches. In spring when it was time for the garden to go in, we used the tree to grow pole beans and climbing peas. When the fall came, the tree was cut up and used in our fire pit on chilly evenings. Total recycling, and it honours the tree as well as being useful.

Great Ideas

The Editors's picture

Those are all great uses! Thanks for sharing.

Recycling Christmas Trees

Drop your tree in a lake, tank, or pond to provide a hiding place for baby fish and small fish to grow.

recycling used Christmas trees

Make sure that you remove any and all ornaments from the tree such as tinsel and frosting before placing the tree in a lake or pond.

Consult Experts

The Editors's picture

Do make sure that you have permission from the land owner before doing this! We would also strongly recommend consulting your state’s wildlife or environmental management agency before introducing anything into the environment. 

Christmas Tree Recycling for the Fish

We always bring our tree to the lake. Area fishermen and sometimes the Corps of Engineers sink the trees in the lake. The trees provide protection to the small fish from preditors. The small fish grow and are eventually caught by the fishermen. It's the gift that keeps on giving!

Recycling live Christmas Trees

If you live near a body of water (lake, river or stream), submerge the tree. It serves as a shelter for baby and bait fish. When piled up on a beach, ice fishermen grab them and stand the trees upright in their fishing holes. That way skaters won't fall into the hole and the tree will sink by itself when the snow melts. Christmas trees are also used to mark the snowmobile trails over the ice from the mainland out to islands and/or ice fishing grounds in Michigan.

Christmas Tree Recycle

If you are near Hohenwald, Tennessee, The Elephant Sanctuary will take them and give to the elephants. They are very appreciative. Google The Elephant Sanctuary Tennessee, click on News, then Elenotes and the process is there.

Thank you

That's a very good idea, wish I lived close enough to bring mine, and hoping those who do live close do that!

Christmas tree recycling

Pine is not recommended to burn in a fireplace. Too much resin in the wood burns too hot and creates a smokey fire that can cause build-up of tar and creosote. Save it for an outside fire, but not inside.

what to do with your used christmas tree

Goats love Christmas trees! Offer the trees to farmers or sanctuaries! Also some zoo animals enjoy Christmas trees, elephants, for instance.