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Why mulching might be the best option for your old Christmas tree

When the wrapping paper is cleared away and the final cookie eaten, holiday revelers face a predicament: What to do with that old Christmas tree. If you have an artificial tree that’s still in good shape, the answer is simple—back in the attic it goes. But what about natural trees? With environmental sustainability an ever-growing consideration for consumers, it’s no longer as simple as tossing the tree into the next available garbage truck.

As such, there are plenty of options for handling this issue. However, one might at this point stand out from the rest: Mulching. Here’s a look at the most common ways to discard your tree, and why mulching might be the best option.

How do I prep my Christmas tree for disposal?

The first stop is understanding your options. Possibilities can and will depend very heavily on local government agencies or businesses. While one city’s government will recycle trees, another may not. So any disposal plan should start with finding out what’s available in your community.

With that said, there are some general rules to help you get your old Christmas tree ready to exit stage left:

  • Don’t wait for the tree to dry out. Dry trees pose a fire hazard.
  • When you’re ready, remove the tree stand, tree skirt, ornaments, and lights.
  • Before you move it, keep things clean by covering the tree with a large, plastic tree removal bag (available from Christmas tree vendors as well as big-box or holiday stores). However, you should check with your final destination first, as some do not accept bagged trees.
  • If you have an old blanket or sheet, this could also help contain the mess as you move the tree outside.
  • If you’re setting your tree on the curb, be aware of and follow any instructions from those doing the removal.
  • Be sure the tree does not block access to roads, driveways, sidewalks, or mailboxes.

With a properly prepared tree, now it’s time to figure out where this tree is going. Somewhere a little greener? Let’s see.

What are the potential options for Christmas tree removal?

Before we get to mulching, let’s take a look at some of the other options that’re available.

Curbside trash pickup: Even with so many new options out there, millions of trees each year still end up in landfills. This may not be ideal, especially for those concerned about how we use and manage natural resources, but hey, at least you got your living room back.

Donate to a parks or wildlife agency: Live Christmas trees can sometimes be donated to state parks or wildlife preserves, which use old trees to create new animal habitats — both on land and in the water.

Compost: The branches of a retired Christmas tree are welcome additions to the compost pile. They allow for good airflow through the compost and bring extra moisture to the environment. In many places, there are year-round services, including businesses that’ll take compost materials off your hands. Poke around and see if any accept Christmas trees.

Replant: This is only an option if your tree has its roots intact. In other words, a vast majority of Christmas revelers won’t be able to use this option. But if you’re one of the few who is, move the tree outside to a cool, dry place for a few days to let it re-acclimate to the outdoor conditions, then dig a hole at least twice as the wide as the root system. Drop in your tree, fill in the hole, water it, and you’re all set.

So why is mulching my Christmas tree the best option?

Also known as “treecycling,” mulching can be an easy and practical way to dispose of your old Christmas tree.

Here’s that broken record again: you’ll need to check with your local government agencies or nurseries to see if they make this option available. Some city governments and businesses accept Christmas trees and grind them into mulch, which they sometimes then sell or use on local landscapes and parks. If it’s the government doing the treecycling, it could be as easy as putting your tree on the curb.

Even if there’s no curbside Christmas tree pickup in your area, local groups will often hold treecycling events, where you can drop off your tree for mulching, often deep into the month of January. In many instances, they’ll give you a bag of your own mulch to take home. For gardeners, that couldn’t come at a more opportune time. Mulch is essential for good plant health during the cold-weather months. Think of it as a blanket for your garden, working to stave off frost and help excess water move through the soil.

It can also be fun to make the mulch yourself. Discard the needles and cut or chop the branches into small chunks. Cathartic!

Since you’re often able to reap the rewards yourself, and don’t need a lot of extra steps or equipment to do it, mulching may be the best option for discarding your old Christmas tree. Whether you take it to your city government or do it yourself, it’s a fun and low- or no-cost option. You can also feel good about doing something green, closing the consumption loop by putting the old Christmas tree back in (or on) the Earth. That seems a fitting way to close out the season.

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