Mulching is perhaps the most readily available option. Tree recycling and mulching programs are a fast-growing trend in communities throughout the country. Check with your local Department of Public Works for information.
Typically, they will chip and shred the trees, making the mulch available for use in your landscaping. Your local hauler should be able to provide pick-up dates in your area.
Alternatively, you may need to take your tree to a designated drop-off site, where it can be mulched for public use.
Some communities use Christmas trees to make effective erosion barriers, especially for shorelines along lakes and rivers. And some communities use them to help rebuild sand dunes.
For example, when Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey’s Island Beach State Park in 2012, it flattened the dunes, pushing massive amounts of sand hundreds of feet inland. Three months later, after the Christmas holidays, local volunteers dragged hundreds of old Christmas trees across the sand and laid them in a snaking line along the beach.
The trees would serve as a foundation for new dunes by trapping windborne sand in their needles and branches.
The project was the brainchild of Katie Barnett, a specialist with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Barnett issued a call for Christmas trees on the park service’s Facebook page, hoping for 1,000 trees. She got 4,000.
Used trees can be sunk into fish ponds and streams, making an excellent refuge and feeding area for fish. For instance, the Oregon conservation group Trout Unlimited has been using Christmas trees for fish habitats for the past six years. Group members place the trees into a side channel of the Necanicum River, where the trees provide food sources and protection from predators for baby coho salmon.
The “Christmas for Coho” project is one of many across the country that recycle old Christmas trees into fish habitat. Similar projects have taken place in California, Missouri, Ohio and Louisiana.
Officials at the Baker’s Lake Nature Preserve in northern Illinois faced a dilemma when the area became overcrowded with herons and egrets. Forced out of their native habitats by development, the birds were destroying much of the natural vegetation at the nesting site.
To recreate a home for the birds, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, in cooperation with conservation groups, decided to use recycled Christmas trees to create nesting structures. The plan worked beautifully.
Today, the annual project uses 300-400 recycled trees each year. It attracts hundreds of pairs of great blue herons, great egrets, cormorants and black-crowned night herons to the preserve’s rookery.
You may not be able to provide a home for herons, but you can still recycle your old Christmas tree into a bird sanctuary and feeder. Here’s how: