What to do with your old Christmas tree

When the time comes to bid farewell to your beloved Christmas tree, you may be wondering what to do with it. Here are four top tips from our Chief Horticulturist, Guy Barter

Let it rot

Real trees are biodegradable, and unlike other many other types of timber, free from wood preservatives. This soft wood rots away disappearing into the soil within a year or two if nature is left to take its course. Simply cut up a Christmas tree into sticks and stack neatly in a shady out-of-the-way part of the garden. The rotting tree fragments support many insects and other wildlife, as well as improving the soil and feeding nearby plants.

Shred it

Shredding Christmas trees greatly speeds up their decomposition. Shreddings make a good mulch for shrubs and paths. Many councils and some retailers offer a shredding service with the chipped trees being composted in a green waste site and the resulting compost used to enrich farmland.

Chop it and stack it

If you do not have access to a garden shredder, you can chop the tree up with secateurs – sawing the trunk into short sections will help. The chopped-up tree can be stacked in an out of the way part of the garden where it will slowly break down and disappear, feeding and sheltering wildlife as it decays.

Create a dead hedge

If you fancy a ‘dead hedge’, composed of packed prunings held in place with stout posts, Christmas trees will make a good filler. Neighbours are likely to be keen to contribute their spent trees. This is another widlife-friendly option.

Other ways to avoid post-Christmas eco guilt

Potting up and reusing plants: After using living outdoor plants as decorations e.g. pernettyas, skimmia and hollies, pot them up and use them in the garden.

Choosing long lasting Christmas plants: Choose plants that you know will last in your home e.g. Christmas cacti that can last for years.

Growing your own baubles: Gourds and dried flowers can make great, natural baubles so have a go at growing your own ready for 2020. These can then be composted after use.

Composting your short-lived Christmas plants: Poinsettias are best composted and orchids alas are often short-lived. You can also disassemble and compost cut flowers, ivy and other evergreens used on wreaths and garlands – the artificial ribbons, fabrics, wires and frames can be retrieved and reused next Christmas.

Composting or recycle paper and cardboard: Paper and cardboard can be composted; although recycling is also an option as it reduces the number of trees that have to be felled to make wood pulp, the raw material for paper and card.

Sowing your seeds: If time hangs heavy on your hands in the Christmas break try sowing grape seeds, avocado stones and other fruity pips left over from the festivities – interesting houseplants can be grown in this way and this can act as an educational and fun activity for children. Citrus fruits can even be candied for a delicious treat.

Purchasing locally: Greengrocers fill their Christmas shelves with lovely apples, pears and nuts. These are environmentally sound if grown by UK fruit farmers or if they have taken a short trip by lorry from the Mediterranean. Try to avoid tropical fruits or crops that have been flown thousands of miles – dried fruits are ok as they travel by ship.


See also…

Christmas cactus
Christmas-flowering houseplants

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.