In the UK, around 8 million real Christmas trees are purchased every year – but after the Christmas season, many are simply discarded on the streets and eventually find their way to landfill. The Local Government Association estimates that disposal costs the taxpayer £100 per 40 trees with each 2-metre tree generating around 16kg of carbon dioxide as it decomposes.
Instead of sending your used Christmas tree to landfill, there are a number of better ways you can recycle your old tree and put it to good use in the garden or home.
1. Turn it into mulch
Christmas trees make fantastic mulch which can be used around the base of your garden trees or shrubs. Mulching has a number of benefits – it can help treat compaction and prevent soil erosion that often happens after heavy rain. If you mulch the roots of your evergreen trees, conifers, tender perennials and tender shrubs, this can also prevent the ground from becoming frozen in cold spells.
You’ll need to use your shredder – or borrow a neighbour’s if you don’t have one. Making sure that you’re wearing safety equipment (glasses and gloves), cut the branches from the trunk and put them into the shredder one by one so you don’t jam the mechanism. The trunk will usually be too thick to put in the shredder – this can be dried to use in an open fire/woodburner/fire pit or used to create a beautiful decoration (see below).
2. Use it as compost
Aside from spreading the mulch around trees and shrubs, you can also use a little in the compost heap. Don’t include too much as the tough rubbery needles can take quite some time to break down. (Read more tips on how to create your own compost.)
3. Use the tree as a stake
Rather than reducing your tree to mulch or compost, you can strip it bare to create a fantastic frame for flowers or beans to grow up. You can use the unwanted pine needles in compost or sprinkle them on a muddy path to provide grip.
4. Use the branches
If you strip the branches off the trunk, these can be used to protect your beds during the colder months. One way to do this is to create a frame from the branches and cover it with frost protection fabric. Branches can be bent into an arch which you then cover in the fabric to protect delicate plants, or twisted together to form a wigwam shape over larger plants. Make sure you secure the fabric so that it doesn’t blow away during a windy spell.
Alternatively, try intertwining the branches and using them as insulation at the base of winter-tender landscape shrubs or rose bushes.
5. Replant it
Environmental Charity Greenpeace encourages people to pot their Christmas trees after use. Many of the trees you buy over Christmas are incredibly resilient, even those that have had their roots chopped off. Although the branches may already be drooping, you’ll be surprised at their ability to recover if planted in a pot of soil and left to establish. You could decorate the tree with food for birds (see below), giving it a use in the garden even if the roots fail to take.
6. Use as an animal habitat
Winter can be tough for small animals who have to cope with the rain, snow, cold, wind and scarcity of food. Although some mammals do have an inbuilt system that cools the blood flowing to their extremities, thereby reducing heat loss, they will still seek shelter in cold and windy conditions. Your old tree will make a good shelter in a corner of the garden that is not too exposed – just make sure it is secure so that it does not blow around in windy conditions.
7. Create a bird feeder
Your old tree is a fantastic way to provide much needed food for birds during the winter months. Secure it in a heavy pot that won’t blow over and decorate the branches with suitable food ‘decorations’ (the kids will love helping with this) – for example:
- Halve an orange and scoop out the flesh. Attach three or four strings through little holes in the side of the orange to create a hanging basket shape. Fill it with bird seed.
- Attach string to a pine cone, making a loop. Dip the cone in peanut butter then cover it in bird seed.
- Thread popcorn onto string. using a needle and use as ‘tinsel’.
- Mix suet with plenty of bird seed, squish it into cookie cutters and push the shapes out onto greaseproof paper. Partly unwind a paperclip and embed it in each shape to create a hook for hanging. Pop your shapes in the freezer to set.
- You can halve and hang up old fruit by attaching string – even if it is bruised or partly rotten. Apples, pears and other fruit will be appreciated by the birds.
8. Turn it into potpourri
The beautiful scent of pine needles makes fantastic potpourri, especially when combined with other popular winter spices. Collect together a few of the pine branches and chop off a good-sized piece of the tree stump. You might want to use some cinnamon sticks, cloves and raw cranberries, too.
Put your tree stump in a shallow heat-proof bowl and add water up to the halfway point. Scatter the other bits and pieces – cloves, cranberries, cinnamon sticks and the pine needles/branches – in the water. Position in a warm place (such as on top of a radiator cover) out of the way of kids/pets and as the water starts to warm up, the gorgeous woody scent will fill your home. After a few days, the water will dry up – so you’ll need to add some more, and you might also need to refresh your ingredients.
9. Make a decoration
You can use a section of the tree trunk to make a rustic candle holder for your home. The tea light can either go in the centre of the trunk, or you can lie a thicker section of trunk on its side and cut several holes for a number of tea lights.
First, cut your trunk to the size you want. If you’re going to put the tea light in the middle of the trunk, measure across the top and find the centre. If you’re going to lie the trunk on its side for several tea lights, use a sharpie to mark where each hole will go. The easiest way to create the holes is to use a spade bit that is the correct size on your drill. Tea lights are quite shallow so you’ll need to stop periodically, clean out the hole and try it for size. When you’re finished, lightly sand the hole if you need to and fill the little hole at the bottom (made by the tip of the spade bit) with wood filler or putty.
When you’ve finished, seal your candle holder – this protects the wood, keeps any critters that might be living in the wood from escaping and gives it a nice sheen.
10. Recycle it
If you’ve not got the time or inclination to follow any of the above ideas, the simplest way to dispose of your Christmas tree is to recycle it. Many garden centres are happy to take old trees and will turn them into wood chippings for use in someone else’s garden! There are also conservation schemes throughout the UK that welcome old trees – for example, in Merseyside, they are used to protect the sand dunes and sea defences, and in West Yorkshire, they help to build up hedgerows and create safety barriers around the Ogden reservoir. Speak to your local council to find out what schemes are running in your area.
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