The halls have been decked, the stockings have been hung and the perfect tree stands as a glowing beacon, festooned with lights and ornaments in anticipation of Christmas Day. Once the holidays have passed, artificial trees will be taken down and stored until next December. But what do you do with a real Christmas tree? These natural beauties require different care before, during, and after the last gifts have been unwrapped.
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, anywhere from 25 million to 30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. every year. Trees used to celebrate the season grow in every single U.S. state. Many states have “choose and cut” farms where you can walk the rows and select your tree right where it grows, according to the association.
The lifespan of a live Christmas tree is fairly short, just 5-6 weeks says Stan Reed, executive secretary of the Texas Christmas Tree Growers Association. "That is just for trees you cut yourself," he says. "Factor in about a week for trees that are shipped in, you have about 4 weeks at most." After that, you will need to do something with it. Here are some options.
Meet the Expert
- Stan Reed is the executive secretary of the Texas Christmas Tree Growers Association.
Schedule a Pickup
The easiest thing to do with the undecorated tree is to call a local pickup service—many service providers offer Christmas tree pickups. "It’s better than buying a fake tree that goes in the landfill for 200-300 years,” says Reed. In fact, he says "a lot of them [trash removal services] will make mulch out of the trees that you can pick up and use later."
Give to Parks
Reed says "Most unsold, pre-cut trees are turned into mulch. It is used on playgrounds, parks, and to help protect other plants around businesses and homes." Recycled trees can pass the torch to the next generation of Christmas trees, so to speak. "You can spread around saplings to keep the ground moist," he says.
Donate Food for Animals
"Some of the mulch is cut up and used by farmers to feed livestock," says Reed. "Some are tossed into lakes for fish." Live in a rural area? Check with your farmer friends or local parks and wildlife service to see if they might like to have your old tree.
Create a Seasonal Scent
Make the memories last a little longer by using your tree to make stovetop potpourri. Take some dry pine needles and place them in a pot full of water on the stove. Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat slightly, taking care to add more water when it gets low. Your whole house will smell like Christmas.
Replant Your Tree
When a living tree is cut to move into your home, "the base is cut away from the roots, leaving the veins that carry water from a tree stand to the branches," Reed says. Can you stick a real Christmas tree back in the ground so it can continue to grow? Well, maybe. According to Reed, "You have to have a tree with the root ball still attached. You want to dig the hole before it freezes, depending on where you live. Get a smaller tree and keep it inside for a week or so to increase your chances."
Make Home Decor
If your tree’s trunk has a large enough circumference, consider creating some DIY home decor with it. Slice off thin pieces, then sand them on both sides until smooth. Coat with polyurethane to keep any sap from oozing out and use it as trivets in the kitchen or coasters in the TV room.
- "Real trees are flammable. Be sure to set them up away from fireplaces or space heaters to reduce fire danger," says Reed.
- "Don’t just toss the tree in a ditch and assume it will be fine. Once the tree is dried out, it just takes someone tossing a lit cigarette out of a car window to start a fire that could easily get out of hand," addresses Reed.
- Tall trees look majestic but be sure your tree is at least one foot shorter than the height of the ceiling where it will live in your home. Reed says this is to allow you to add a topper that fits in the space easily.
Quick tree facts | national christmas tree association.