How to Dispose of Your Live Christmas Tree

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December 22, 2023

A live tree with festive decorations is a delight through the Christmas season, but it won’t last forever. Plan now for how you will dispose of the tree when the season is done. Here are some tips from the Plant Clinic experts at The Morton Arboretum.

Prevent fire hazards. Dispose of your tree as soon as it shows signs of drying out to prevent it from becoming a fire hazard. Needles will become brittle and start to fall off, and the tree will no longer take up water. Never burn your evergreen tree in a fireplace or wood stove. It may cause creosote buildup that could lead to a chimney fire.

Recycle. Check with your municipality or waste management company about local tree recycling or disposal arrangements, including when and where trees will be picked up or whether you need to take your tree to a recycling site. Recycled trees are chipped into mulch or compost. In some municipalities, the fine-smelling mulch that results can be picked up to spread in your garden.

Trees only, please. Only the actual tree can be recycled. Be sure to remove all decorations, and if you use a plastic tree bag to carry the tree from the house, take the bag off outside. Trees that aren’t bare will go to a landfill instead of being recycled. Flocked trees—those covered in white synthetic powder to suggest snow—can’t be recycled; they must be thrown away in the regular trash. Don’t try to recycle garlands, wreaths, or anything that contains wire, which could damage the shredding machinery. Discard those items in the trash.

Protect plants. Branches cut from your tree can help protect plants in your garden. Laid over beds, they will insulate the soil so it doesn’t heat up in winter warm spells and cause plants to come out of dormancy too early. This is most useful in beds that are in full sun.

Shelter wildlife. If you have the space, consider leaving the whole tree in your yard to provide a winter refuge for wildlife. In spring, cut up the tree and dispose of it through your municipality’s landscape waste disposal program.

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