By Samantha Burbach – 12/21/20

It’s Christmas week and for most who celebrate the holiday, decorating would not be complete without a Christmas tree! Beautifully decorated Christmas trees are displayed in homes, churches, businesses, and all-around town. Today, there are options of purchasing or cutting a real tree or buying an artificial tree. Let’s talk a little more about real Christmas trees!

The most popular varieties of real Christmas trees are Balsam Fir, Douglas Fir, Fraser Fir, Scotch Pine and White Pine. Fir trees make excellent cut Christmas trees as they have soft needles that do not fall off easily and they have the classic Christmas tree fragrance that lasts throughout the holiday season. Some fir trees, such as Balsam Fir and Douglas Fir, have more flexible limbs which is not great for heavy ornaments, but other firs, such as Fraser Fir and Noble Fir, have strong branches that can support heavy ornaments quite well.

In the United States, approximately 25-30 million real Christmas trees are sold each year, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. While Christmas trees used to be harvested from forests, today 98% of Christmas trees are grown on tree farms, making Christmas trees a sustainable agricultural crop. For every tree harvested, 1-3 tree seedlings are planted the following spring, contributing to close to 350 million trees growing on Christmas tree farms in the United States alone. There are around 15,000 farms growing Christmas trees covering approximately 350,000 acres. For every acre of Christmas trees growing, the daily supply of oxygen for 18 people is produced.

After celebrating Christmas, families may keep their tree up for a day or two or a couple of weeks. Several factors account for how long a tree can stay fresh in a home, including what type of tree you selected, when you got it, whether it was pre-cut or you cut it yourself, how warm of a room it was in, and how regularly it was watered (never let the tree stand run dry!). And once you are ready to take your tree down, there are several ways you can recycle your tree to keep it out of a landfill!


Here are some of the ways you can recycle a real Christmas tree at the end of the holiday season:

  • Local tree recycling programs! Once a real Christmas tree (without any flocking) has had all ornaments, lights, wires, tinsel, and any other decorations removed, it can be recycled to be turned into mulch. Some waste removal companies will collect trees on the curb during regular garbage removal for certain periods in January, making it easy to recycle your tree. You can check with your garbage removal company to see if/when they might be offering this service. Another Stateline option is to drop your tree off at a Keep Northern Illinois Beautiful tree recycling site. See here for more information: https://www.knib.org/programs
  • Repurpose your live Christmas tree as insulating mulch in your garden.

    Use your tree to insulate your garden. Branches can be cut off your tree to be laid on your garden beds as insulation to prevent the ground from freezing and thawing which might damage your perennials, especially shallow-rooted perennials that may be heaved from the soil such as coral bells, coreopsis, and strawberries.

  • Set your tree outside to provide a home for birds and wildlife. If the ground is not frozen you can drive a T-post into the ground and wire the tree to stand outdoors for critters to enjoy as winter shelter. Place the tree somewhere you can view from inside and hang birdfeeders and fruit from the tree like natural ornaments to attract birds so you can do some birdwatching from the comfort of your home!
  • Use the wood for OUTDOOR firewood. The sap in evergreens can lead to dangerous creosote build-up in your fireplace if used indoors, therefore used Christmas trees should only be used for outdoor fires. If you do burn your Christmas tree outside, collect the ashes after it is finished burning and spread it on your garden. Wood ash contains beneficial nutrients for plants, especially potassium and lime. Make sure you are collecting only wood ash however, and not any coal ash.
  • Remove the branches from a section of the tree trunk and cut slices out of the trunk for crafts. Cut off a section of the tree trunk and remove all lateral branches. Allow the section of tree trunk to dry out before slicing into discs (or tree cookies as they’re sometimes called!) to prevent cracking. You can varnish or paint them to make coasters, a tree disc wreath, natural ornaments for next year’s Christmas tree, or anything else you can imagine!
  • An example of a tree as fish habitat.

    Use the tree for fish habitat. If you have a large pond on your property you can submerge your entire tree in the water to provide habitat for fish, or if you have a smaller pond you can submerge a limb or two in the water. Algae will eventually grow on the tree, which provides a place to fish to eat and take cover all at the same time.

Resources for additional information about Christmas trees