Don’t throw your Christmas tree into the regular trash.
Christmas trees can be recycled, composted, and repurposed in your home and garden.
Use evergreen trees and their needles as mulch in your yard.
Research whether your town, city, or a local charity provides a curbside tree pickup service in January.
You covered your Christmas tree in twinkling lights and gathered around it on Christmas morning, but now that the holidays are over, it’s time to say goodbye. Depending on the type of Christmas tree, you’ll need to remove it from your home before it becomes a fire hazard or makes a mess. But what’s the way to dispose of it? Here’s how to dispose of your Christmas tree when the festivities are through.
How Do I Dispose of My Real Christmas Tree?
If you’re ready to move on from the holiday season, follow these steps to dispose of your Christmas tree properly.
Use a Christmas Tree Collection Service
In many cities and suburban areas, a free curbside Christmas tree collection service is available during the first few weeks of January. If you live somewhere that offers this service, all you need to do is:
Check with your local city to find out the collection dates
Ensure that you remove all ornaments, lights, and decorations from the tree
Bring your tree out to the curb, usually where you put your trash cans
In larger cities, there are typically multiple-day options. In some cases, cities will use the trees for compost or chip them into mulch to spread across city parks.
Consider a Yard Waste Disposal Company
If you don’t have a local collection service, you can contact a yard waste disposal company and arrange a pickup, which may incur a fee. If you can’t arrange a pickup, bring your tree to the nearest yard waste collection site, similar to how you dispose of excess leaves or other yard waste.
How Can I Recycle My Christmas Tree?
There are plenty of ways to make your real Christmas tree “greener” when moving it out of your home.
Turn Your Tree Into Mulch
Mulch maintains moisture around plants, provides nutrients, and suppresses weeds. Why not break down your Christmas tree into a beneficial organic mulch for your yard?
To mulch your Christmas tree, you’ll need a wood chipper, and a chainsaw or a sturdy hand saw, depending on the size of your tree. First, chop the tree into as many small pieces as possible, then layer them into your mulch pile. It takes several years for larger pieces of wood to decompose, which is why it’s best to chip the wood.
Contact a local tree service if you need help turning your tree into mulch chips. According to HomeAdvisor, professional wood chipping typically costs between $70 to $150, depending on the size of the tree.
Compost Your Real Christmas Tree
No, you can’t just stick a whole tree in your compost pile and expect it to turn into rich compost instantly. However, layering a few inches of trimmed boughs (main branches of the tree) at the bottom of a new pile makes a great base. The extra airflow lets oxygen and heat build-up, allowing the upper layers of compostable material to decompose rapidly.
The needles slow down decomposition, so carefully strip them from the branches for the fastest results. Use the needles as a layer of insulating winter mulch instead.
Consider Donating Your Tree
If you want to do your part for a good cause, search for charities and environmental groups that run Christmas tree recycling services. Some collect for a donation and others have drop-off points. They take trees for a variety of creative and environmentally friendly purposes, including community flood barriers, habitat restoration, soil erosion prevention, rebuilding of sand dunes, and more.
Replant Your Christmas Tree
If you have a container-grown Christmas tree with intact roots, give it a new lease on life by replanting it after the holidays. Some companies even rent Christmas trees they deliver, collect and replant.
Don’t have overly high expectations, though—replanting is tricky, and the longer your tree spends indoors, the less it’s likely to thrive further down the line.
Trees chopped down during dormancy can begin growing again during their time in a cozy living room, and they won’t like you kicking them out to the cold ground. Plus, trees dry out when hot air from heating vents blasts them. If copious amounts of yellow needles are dropping, quit while you’re ahead and dispose of or recycle the Christmas tree in another way.
Some tree transplanting tips for the best chance of success include:
Maintain moist, not wet soil, and keep the tree away from direct heat during the festivities.
Gradually acclimate your tree by moving it to a cool, dry spot, like an unheated garage or basement, for a few days before putting it outside.
Cover the tree during this hardening-off period.
Steer clear of gusty garden spots—a sheltered locale near a wall works wonders.
Plan to use the tree again next year? Keep it in the pot on your patio rather than planting it in the ground to reduce stress and root damage.
Submerge Your Christmas Tree Into a Lake or Pond
While you don’t just want to toss your tree in any old lake, real Christmas trees make ideal habitats for fish and other freshwater aquatic creatures. Even if you don’t have a deep pond in your backyard, your local wildlife commission can clue you in on any nature reserves, forest services, wetlands, or state parks that need extra fishy havens and the local ordinances in place.
Your tree will need to be free of tinsel and trinkets, and if you're popping it in a private pond yourself, weigh it down first in a cement bucket.
Additional Ways to Reuse Your Christmas Tree
Not interested in chipping your tree into mulch? No problem. There are plenty of other ways to reuse your Christmas tree.
Use the tree to create a backyard habitat for winter wildlife. Place it in a nook in your garden, and consider adding a birdfeeder. You’ll likely get squirrels and birds alike looking for a place to shelter.
Remove and reuse the branches to create an edge in your garden, or use them for stakes.
If you have a chainsaw, slice the trunk into discs (this involves some sweat equity, but it’s worth it). Let the trunk discs dry out and cure in your garage, and then use them as organic pavers in the spring.
Use the discs cut from the trunk as all-natural drink coasters. After letting them dry completely, consider finishing the disc with a coat of varnish to prevent sap leakage.
You can save some of the needles to use in potpourri.
Fashion it as a frame for climbing plants.
Use the tree boughs as a tent to insulate plants when there are frigid forecasts.
How to Dispose of Alternative Types of Christmas Trees
Many people opt for low-maintenance artificial over real Christmas trees. If you’re unsure about how to dispose of your artificial Christmas tree, follow these guidelines.
Many families choose to decorate an artificial Christmas tree so they can use it for several years. However, even artificial Christmas trees have a life span.
If your artificial tree looks a little worse for wear, it may be time to throw it out. Since this type of tree usually qualifies as general household waste, you can place it in the trash, similar to other large household items. Do not place artificial trees out for collection on Christmas tree collection day.
Alternatively, consider donating your artificial tree to a nonprofit organization, like Goodwill, or a local thrift store to spread extra holiday cheer and be sustainable.
Flocked trees are real Christmas trees that are coated with white (or pink or blue) spray. Flocking spray is synthetic, which means it contains fine fibers that cannot be recycled or composted. If you have a flocked tree, you should dispose of it in the trash, similar to other household waste. Your best bet is to chop the tree up into smaller pieces, bag it, and throw it out.
General Tips for Easy Christmas Tree Disposal
Regardless of how you dispose of your Christmas tree, ensure that you complete the following steps:
Remove the tree from your home before it dries out to avoid dropping tree needles during transport.
To help catch the falling tree needles, wrap a tree disposal bag, a large plastic bag, or even an old sheet around your tree.
Triple check that you remove all of your ornaments, lights, and other decorations before getting rid of your Christmas tree.
Large trees may need to be cut down to a specific size before throwing out.
After the tree has left the building, sweep up fallen needles. Clumps of needles can clog up your vacuum.
What Not to Do When Disposing of a Christmas Tree
Where possible, steer clear of the following Christmas tree removal plans.
Tossing Your Tree in the Trash
You might think it’s wise to chuck your Christmas tree in the trash—after all, they’re biodegradable, right? The problem is that they take a long time to break down when they’re buried in packed, oxygen-deprived landfills. During this time, they produce lots of the harmful greenhouse gas methane.
As long as local ordinances allow it, you can throw your tree in with the rest of the trash as a last resort. However, it’s worth doing a little research, as there are often many other Christmas tree removal options that are just as easy, but better for the environment.
Cutting the Tree Into Firewood
If you have a wood-burning stove or fireplace, you might think you can add your Christmas to the woodpile. However, it’s better to sidestep this solution.
Pine, fir, and spruce are the most common Christmas tree species. They create a tarry byproduct of wood burning called creosote. It’s highly flammable, and when it builds up in chimneys, there’s a risk of flue fires and polluting sooty emissions. Plus, dry, nasty needles burn aggressively, and sparks can fly out of the fire.