Live Christmas trees: Recycle and reuse

Photo courtesy of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System

AUBURN, Ala. – The parties are over and the decorations are packed. Now, there is just one thing left to do – get rid of the Christmas tree. For those who have live Christmas trees, this can sometimes be a bothersome issue. Luckily, there are several options for tree disposal.

Recycle and reuse

While Christmas trees are not a major landfill problem, the best option is to recycle and reuse old trees. Many times, recycled trees are used in a way that adds back to nature. Many communities have a recycling program for discarded Christmas trees. These trees are often chipped and used for mulch or compost. However, if this is not available in the area, there are other options.

Fish attractor

One way to reuse a Christmas tree is by bundling several of them together to attract fish in recreational ponds.

Rusty Wright, an Alabama Extension fisheries specialist, said fish are attracted to a tree habitat for many reasons.

“Small fish use the tree bundle as a form of protection from larger predators,” Wright said. “Larger fish use it as a place to wait for their prey to pass by. They also use it as protection from predators such as large fish-eating birds.”

Algae, and the animals that eat algae, also attach to the tree, providing food for the fish.

According to Wright, fish attractors are an important part of pond management.

“They help anglers enjoy the pond and more effectively catch fish,” he said. “Fish harvest, particularly harvest of bass, is critical to keeping the predators and prey in balance.”

Making an attractor

To make a fish attractor, Wright suggests bundling two to three trees together with wire. At the base, use two concrete blocks per group of three trees as an anchor. Bundles can be placed upright or on their sides. If making an upright bundle, tie a float to the tops of the trees.

Place upright bundles in water, 4 to 6 feet deep. People can place bundles on their side in shallow water, right up to the edge. To make them more effective, place the bundles in groups of three or four.

“Be prepared to augment or add to the bundles through time,” Wright said. “Christmas trees generally don’t last long.”

Helping wildlife

Andy Baril, an Alabama Extension forestry, wildlife and natural resources regional agent, said old Christmas trees are great for creating bird sanctuaries.

“Stand the tree up in your backyard so birds can use it for nesting and as a potential food source for the winter months,” Baril said. “Place peanut butter directly on the branches and cover them with bird seed. This is a great way to help birds because food is scarce during the winter.”

Baril said people can also use the trees as a habitat for rabbits.

“If you live in a rural area, gather several Christmas trees together and lay them on the ground to make a shelter for rabbits,” he said. “Rabbits are active at night, so they need a place to protect themselves from owls.”

According to Baril, these habitats can be placed fairly close to houses.

“I have had these shelters as close as 60 feet to my house and the rabbits still used them for shelter,” Baril said.

Norman Haley, an Alabama Extension forestry, wildlife and natural resources regional agent, added that other wildlife can also use these shelters.

“These Christmas tree shelters produce wildlife habitats that provide cover and structure throughout the landscape,” Haley said. “These piles are used by not only rabbits, but also by many game and non-game mammals, as well as birds.”

According to Haley, it is best to make several small piles (10 trees or less) rather than one large pile.

“Small mammals can find escape routes in small piles better than in large ones,” he said. “Also, large piles tend to attract skunks, raccoons, opossums and coyotes.”

More information

For more information about recycling your Christmas tree, visit or contact your county Extension office.