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How to recycle your old Christmas tree

Sharon Amos / 12 December 2018 ( 16 December 2020 )

Find out how to recycle your real Christmas tree, including how to use the logs in a wood-burning stove and some creative tips to benefit garden wildlife.

Christmas tree debris being swept up
Once the baubles come down there are ways to put your old real Christmas tree to good use

Don't just bin your living Christmas tree after Christmas. There are lots of ways of recycling it to be used as compost, create wildlife habitats or warm your home in winter. We'll look at what you can do with your old Christmas tree, including:

  • Recycling with the council
  • Using as mulch
  • As border edging
  • To protect tender plants
  • To create wildlife habitats
  • Use in craft projects
  • Using for fire wood

How to recycle your old Christmas tree if you don’t have a garden

If you're trying to get rid of a real Christmas tree and live in a flat you should first check your local council’s website to see if they are running a collect and recycle scheme, which usually asks residents to leave their trees outside on a particular day. The trees are then shredded to make chippings to use as a mulch in municipal gardens and parks.

If the council isn’t collecting, take your tree to your local domestic waste recycling centre – wrap it in a dust sheet or plastic, to minimise the needles scattered in your car.

If it's difficult for you to transport your tree you can also check your parish magazine, local newsletter, local Facebook groups or village notice board – often Scout or Girl Guide groups and other fundraisers will collect and recycle your tree for a donation.

Check with local zoos to see if they might want them. Lions are attracted to the smell of Christmas trees like cats are attracted to catnip so many zoos will accept donated Christmas trees for enclosure enrichment, as seen in the below video from Linton Zoo in Cambridgeshire.

Recycling in the council's garden waste collection

Already subscribe to your council’s garden waste collection scheme? (Typically a specific garden-waste wheelie bin or green bag system.) Chop up the tree and leave it out with your garden waste. Take the tree outside and snip off all the branches – use secateurs or loppers depending on how big the tree is. Snip them down further into manageable lengths if necessary.

Using your old Christmas tree in the garden

Snip off the branches to use as a mulch. They take a long time to decompose so are ideal for mulching to preserve moisture and suppress weeds. What's more, they also provide an excellent habitat for insects to overwinter.

Once the branches have been sawn off you could leave the trunk intact and use it to prop up a section of collapsing fence, or to plug a gap in the fence or hedge, or use to grow beans or flowers up.

Alternatively you could cut the trunk into sections (about 2" thick) and line them up side by side, half buried in the ground, as edging on your flower bed.

These same discs of trunk could also be used as pot feet to keep containers off the ground, preventing them getting too wet.

Bigger branches can be cut from the trunk and used to cover tender plants, protecting them from frost during the worst of the winter, and then placed out of the way to decompose when winter has passed.

Find out how to recycle your Christmas, including uses for cards, packaging and more.

Creating wildlife habitats

Old Christmas trees can be used to make excellent wildlife habitats in your garden.

Tuck some of the snipped-off branches along the base of the hedge, if you have one. They’ll eventually rot down but in the meantime can provide shelter for small creatures and insects.

Tie some of the twiggy branches together to create small habitats for insects and other invertebrates and put them in out-of-the-way corners where they won’t get disturbed.

Saw up the trunk and stack the logs to make a logpile habitat for insects and amphibians such as toads, frogs and newts.

Use the logs to make an insect hotel. You’ll need a wooden box (not plastic – condensation can make the contents too wet). Cut the logs to fit the depth of the box. Drill a few holes in the cut surfaces to attract solitary bees. Pack the gaps between the logs with narrower stems and twigs – hollow elder twigs, old sunflower stems and Jerusalem artichoke stems are ideal.

Even a whole tree, just stuck into the ground or pot, can provide a wildlife refuge for a short while. It can provide perches and cover, or be used to hang feeders from, until all the needles are gone.

Using your Christmas tree for crafty projects

If you enjoy woodworking you can use your Christmas tree in projects to decorate the home or perhaps even sell. For example, slicing the trunk into disks, then sand and varnish them to create lovely rustic wooden coasters. If you have a wood burner you can even add decorative patterns or make personalised coasters for friends and family.

Meanwhile, branches and pine needles can be used to make homemade potpourri with a lovely festive scent.

How to use your old Christmas tree for fire wood

Burn the twiggy pine-needle branches you’ve snipped off as kindling to get the fire going – not recommended on an open fire as they spit.

Saw up the trunk and leave the logs to dry out and season – at least a couple of months, or until next winter – before burning them.

Planting out pot-grown trees

If you have a pot grown tree you can plant the tree outside or keep it next year. If you keep it potted you'll need to occasionally repot it to. Read our guide to caring for potted living Christmas trees.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.