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Today is May 9, 2021

Recycle Christmas trees for wildlife & environment

By Susan Collins-Smith

Tradition, aroma and appearance are not the only good reasons to choose real Christmas trees. They also support local economies and are sustainable.

When the season is over, real trees can be recycled in several ways.

“Someone spent a lot of time and resources growing the tree, and recycling is a good way to reuse the tree that benefits people and the environment.,” said John Kushla, professor and forestry specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “Not everyone will have a way to recycle their tree, but it’s a great choice if you can.”


Kushla said there are three common ways to recycle trees:

• Buy a live Christmas tree. Live trees are grown in a pot. It can be transplanted into the landscape once the holiday season is over. Most real trees are adaptable to dry sites with good drainage and full sunlight.

• Use municipal recycling services. Some large cities collect trees and shred them into mulch. To find out if a city offers curb-side pick-up or drop-off, call its public works department.

• Sink the tree in a pond or lake to provide habitat for fish. Keep in mind tree species commonly used as Christmas trees decompose quickly.


Wes Neal, Extension fisheries specialist, said hardwood species are better suited for fish habitat because they decompose more slowly.

“I generally recommend using other types of trees for fish habitat, but Christmas trees will work for a short time,” he said. “Some folks use cedar trees for decoration. These last longer as habitat than other species commonly used as Christmas trees but may float and require anchoring.”

“Christmas trees can also provide wildlife habitat in the home landscape,” said Adam Rohnke, Extension urban wildlife specialist. “Trees can be propped up or placed on the ground away from high-activity areas, such as walkways and driveways.

“Christmas trees make a great base for creating a wildlife brush pile,” Rohnke said. “Brush piles not only provide cover from the elements for wildlife, but also attract food sources such as worms, insects and other invertebrates.

“If the tree is used standing up, families can have fun making and hanging homemade suet feeders or pine cones rolled in peanut butter and black oil sunflower seeds,” he said.

Both Neal and Rohnke warned that people should be sure to remove all decorations and tinsel before recycling for wildlife.

“We want to reduce the chance of entanglement or consumption of the used decorations,” Rohnke said. “We do not want to create a wildlife trap: an attractant that then poses a risk to the very animals we are trying to help or attract.”

Visit for more information on recycling Christmas trees.


Susan Collins-Smith is a writer for the Mississippi State University Extension Service.​

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