Christmas is over, so what should you do with your tree?
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care and the presents all placed under the tree, but now that Christmas is over, the tree is all that remains of your happy holiday celebration.
If you have an artificial tree, you can simply pack it away for next year. But what about the millions of Americans who opt for a real tree every year? The Forest Preserve District ceased its Christmas tree collection program several years ago, but you can still dispose of your tree responsibly in the post-holiday wind down. The first thing to do is to make sure all ornaments and other trimmings — lights, tinsel, garland — are removed.
Some municipalities collect Christmas trees for recycling and composting as part of their curbside garbage collection services, while others offer drop-offs for trees. Will County Green advises checking with your municipality about its collection services for Christmas trees. In some cases, municipalities that collect trees may chip them and then offer them as mulch in the spring.
If your town or garbage service doesn't offer Christmas tree recycling or composting, consider holding on to it until early spring, Will County Green recommends. When yard waste collection resumes for the season, you can cut it up in pieces and place them in yard waste bags or your yard waste receptacle. Until then, store it in an out-of-the-way spot in your yard, where birds and other wildlife may use it as shelter.
You can take it a step further and add strings of popcorn (or leave them from your trimmed tree) or orange slices to the branches to offer the birds a treat, the National Christmas Tree Association recommends. You can even add small bird feeders to your holiday tree to allow it to serve as a haven for birds, the Arbor Day Foundation advises.
Christmas trees can also create good shelters and feeding spots in ponds. If you have a pond on your property, drop your tree in it and let nature take its course. Fish and other aquatic creatures will use it as shelter, and it will soon start to grow algae, which will become a food source, according to the Arbor Day Foundation. One important note: Make sure you have permission from the property owner before trying to submerge your tree in any body of water. Christmas trees cannot be left in Will County preserves.
If you have an outdoor fire pit, use your holiday centerpiece as firewood. Keep in mind that evergreen trees are best for outdoor fires. Most are sap producers and can burn fast and hot, making them a good choice for bonfires but not so much for cozy indoor fires, the Arbor Day Foundation reports. It's a good idea to let your Christmas tree sit outdoors to dry out for a few months before cutting or burning it.
Once your fire burns out, the ashes from your tree can be mixed into your compost or spread over your garden soil and landscaped beds. The ash from the tree contains a lot of lime, potassium and other nutrients that will help your plants grow and thrive.
One last idea: If you want to keep the holiday spirit alive in your house a little longer, consider cutting off a few sprigs from your evergreen tree, the Arbor Day Foundation suggests. As long as the sprigs have still-green needles, you can simply tuck them into sachets or small fabric or paper bags and it will smell like Christmas in your house all year long.