Whether to buy a real Christmas tree or artificial is an age-old question filled with lots of debate. Critics on both sides argue why one tree is better than the other. Naturally, artificial is the safer option, after all you’re allowing real trees to live where they belong, in the forest, and using an artificial one that can be used year-after-year, right?
Not quite, in fact, most real Christmas trees are grown on farms, like crops, for the specific purpose of being harvested as Christmas trees. Without the demand for the real trees, these Christmas tree farms (and the benefits their trees provide) wouldn’t exist. Additionally, the trees sold on these farms are replanted every year. Very few Christmas trees are actually removed from federal forests, and those that are, are strictly regulated by the U.S. Forest Service. Real trees are actually more sustainable because they are biodegradable, unlike plastic trees which fill landfills and can take more than 400 years to decompose, causing more harm than good to the environment.
But the end of Christmas doesn’t have to be the end of life for your living Christmas tree. If you had a real Christmas tree this year you can extend its life and use beyond the home. Here are 8 ways to responsibly recycle your Christmas tree for other purposes.
The most common use for your tree is to make mulch or compost out of it. Whether it’s with the woodchips or needles, mulch is a great way to keep your yard trees healthy and moist during the cold winter season. Pine needles are full of nutrients that enhance the PH of your soil if its more alkaline and allow your soil to breathe without becoming dense and compacted.
2. Wildlife habitat
The tree doesn’t have to be living for wildlife to take over. Hang bird feeders to attract birds and watch your tree evolve into a bird sanctuary. Other critters will soon follow as they nest in the branches of the tree.
3. Fish Feeder
When trees are submerged in water they become a thriving reserve for fish to congregate in. The weight of the tree acts as an anchor, and as time passes algae starts to form on the tree, feeding fish while protecting them from predators. Check with local officials and see if you can drop your tree in a nearby lake or pond.
4. Cut for Firewood
Because most evergreens are heavy sap trees, they work best for firewood when used outdoors. The sap is flammable and creosote build-up can pose as a threat when used indoors. Evergreens tend to burn hot and fast, making them ideal for bonfires.
5. Ash your Garden
After you’ve burned the wood from your tree, gather the ashes and spread them on your garden. Wood ash contains potassium and lime (among other nutrients), which help plants thrive, or mix the ashes into a compost. The ashes are also useful in keeping insects away. Don’t confuse wood ash with coal ash, coal ash does not offer the same benefits.
6. Insulate your Garden
Cut off the branches of your tree and lay them on your garden bed, the boughs will protect your plants from winter freezes and spring thaws. By laying them on your garden you’re giving your plants a steady temperature to brave through the cold months. The limbs also work well as a garden edge.
7. Use as Fresheners
If the needles on your tree are still green, strip the tree and store the needles in paper bags or sachets to use as fresheners. The needles will retain their scent and freshen your home year-round.
8. Make Coasters
You don’t have to be a craftsman to cut the trunk into one-inch wood coasters. They’re attractive, practical and protect your wood tables from water damage. Be sure to let the tree completely dry before cutting (or the wood will split) and varnish the coasters before use.
If you don’t have a need for recycling your living tree for home use, then search for a local recycling program that will recycle your tree. Many communities have recycle/reuse programs and offer curbside pickup. Living trees are biodegradable, so no matter how it is used after the holidays, it is sure to benefit the environment.