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Reusing or recycling your christmas tree

Date posted: 28 October 2013

Once the festive season comes to a close and it's time to take down your Christmas decorations, artificial trees will get packed up and put back into storage for next year – but if you have bought a real Christmas tree you will need to decide how to reuse, recycle or dispose of it.

If your tree has a good, intact root system you could plant it in your garden to use again in future years. If, on the other hand, your Christmas tree was cut at the base, you will need a different plan of action. There are a number of possibilities:

Create a garden mulch

The most obvious solution is to create a garden mulch from your Christmas tree, which can then be distributed around the base of shrubs and trees in your garden. Mulch helps to suppress weeds and retain moisture in the soil. Many people use it on acid-loving plants because Christmas trees are grown in acid-based soil. As the mulch gradually rots down, however, it loses much of its acidity, so it does not change the acid content of the soil as much as one might imagine. The good news is that as it rots it boosts the soil's nutrients and improves drainage.

You can use some of the smaller branches in an un-shredded state to provide a good winter mulch to protect plants that are susceptible to windburn; those that are marginally hardy in your area; and those that might come up early and get damaged by a late spring frost. Simply lay each branch over the soil like a blanket. For larger branches, however, you will need to buy, borrow or hire a wood chipper or wood shredder to make it into mulch. Cut off each branch using a saw or, if your tree is very small, you may be able to use secateurs. Put the tree's main trunk to one side as this will be too thick to shred. Wear some safety glasses and gardening gloves to protect yourself, and then start feeding the tree's branches into the shredder. Remember to feed them in one at a time to avoid jamming the machine.

If you have a small garden with few trees and shrubs, you can also add some of the shredded tree to your garden compost container, but bear in mind that wax-coated pine takes a long time to break down, so you should only add conservative quantities to your composter.
Alternatively, some garden centres offer free tree-shredding services, so you could call a few local centres to find out if this is an option.

Recycle your tree using council services

Some councils allow Christmas trees to be put in the normal garden waste collection bin, although you may need to cut it up first to fit it in. Some local authorities offer special kerbside collections of 'real' Christmas trees, and others allow you to drop off your tree at a local collection point. You can find out about the services available in your area by visiting your own local council's website.

Reuse your Christmas tree creatively in your home

The main trunk can be chopped up to use as fire wood, and the dried branches are ideal as firestarters for log burners (or bonfires). You will need to leave the tree to dry out in a sheltered place, and then cut the smaller branches into 30cm lengths, tie them into bundles with string, and put them somewhere dry until you need them.

If you don't have an open fire or a wood-burning stove, you could chop up the trunk into thin discs, varnish them, and use them as natural mug coasters. You could also use the pine needles to create a distinctive home-made pot pourri – combining the dried needles along with some pine cones, dried flowers and seed pods, cinnamon sticks, cloves and dried foliage fragranced with essential oils.

Reuse your Christmas tree creatively in your garden

If you have a spare corner or space in your garden, you could place the tree on its side in its entirety, and simply allow it to rot down naturally -- while at the same time providing a natural sanctuary for all sorts of garden creatures. Alternatively you could stand the tree upright in the ground (even in the stand you used indoors, if that works) and decorate it with treats such as peanuts, seed feeders and fat balls to attract squirrels and birds throughout the winter. The tree could also be used to support trailing plants, or as a trellis for peas or beans in the spring.

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