Unless you are one of those quirky people who leave their artificial Christmas tree up all year, eventually it has to be taken down. And if you have a real tree, leaving it up isn't an option. Whether it's as early as December 26th, around New Year's Day, or as late as January 6th, Three Kings' Day, taking the tree down isn't half as much fun as putting it up. It's always a bit sad to put the ornaments back in their boxes for another year. One upside: removing lights is a much easier and faster job than putting them on.
Once all the lights, tinsel and decorations are off your tree, what do you do with it? In most areas of the U.S., live Christmas trees can be set out at the curb with your recycling, where it will end up being recycled into wood chips or mulch. Nowadays, fewer real Christmas trees are thrown into landfills, which is good. It's a waste to send organic material that will break down and improve the soil to a landfill.
Artificial trees cannot be recycled, burned or used for habitat. When their useful life is over, they can only be put out for garbage pickup and sent to a landfill. Live trees that have been flocked usually can't be recycled either.
So when it's time to take a live Christmas tree and its decorations down for the year, here are some things to keep in mind:
Remove everything on the tree before discarding it. If it didn't come in with the tree, it shouldn't leave with the tree.
Make an attempt to recycle the tree. If you can't put your Christmas tree out for recycling with your trash, you might be able to chop it up into smaller pieces and set it out as yard waste, if your municipality has that program. And sometimes non-profit groups such as the Boy Scouts will take your tree away for a small donation.
Take advantage of free mulch. Trees are often chipped and used as mulch, which towns then make available in the spring to their residents, usually for free.
Turn the tree into mulch yourself, if you have or can borrow a wood chipper.
Place the tree outside in a wooded part of your property to naturally (and slowly) degrade and provide cover for wildlife. The process goes faster if you chop it into pieces.
Cut off fuller branches and use them in your garden to cover perennial beds to protect delicate plants from snow.
Check with your town. Sometimes trees are put in local waterways as erosion barriers or to provide habitat for fish.
Vacuum up fallen needles; they can clog the machine. Sweeping them up is better.
Burn the tree in your fireplace or wood stove. The tree's wood hasn't had a chance to season. It's full of moisture, won't burn well and will likely smoke and smolder. And the oils in the tree can contribute to creosote buildup and cause a chimney fire.
Expect a roaring bonfire if you burn the tree outdoors. Pine and fir trees are softwood, which doesn't burn well. Even if you wait a year and let a tree thoroughly dry out, the wood will never burn as cleanly as hardwoods such as maple or oak.
Give up if your trash service doesn't recycle trees. Search earth911.com to find places in your area that will. Big box stores such as Lowe's and Home Depot often take trees and recycle them.
Of all the advantages of having a live Christmas tree, one of the most satisfying is knowing that what gave you and your family such delight can return to the earth to nourish another tree.
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