Recycling Christmas Trees
29 December 2008
Virginia Cooperative Extension, Charlottesville/Albemarle County Office
460 Stagecoach Road, Charlottesville, Virginia 22902
phone: 434.872.4580 fax: 434.872.4578
If you purchased a living tree to decorate your home for the holidays you probably have some place in mind to plant it. Living trees are usually purchased as "balled and burlapped" indicating that roots are left intact and bundled in burlap or other cloth-type material. Following use as Christmas trees, they are planted into the landscape and can be a rewarding way to recycle your tree.
Unfortunately, trees replanted after holiday use often do not survive or grow well. Most problems can be traced to one of three major factors. First, a tree species is selected that is not adapted to the environment it will be planted. Second, too large a tree is purchased which then suffers a great degree of transplant shock. Third, prior to replanting, trees become too dry due to inadequate moisture around the roots.
Trees that do well in central Virginia are white pine, Scotch pine, Virginia pine, and Norway spruce. Trees to be replanted should not be larger than five to six feet in height to provide for a sufficient root ball and to facilitate handling.
Before planting, the tree can be conditioned by placing it outside in a moderately cool area for a week or so. Since the root balls are often heavy and cumbersome, it is important that they are not mistreated or dropped. Balled and burlapped trees should not be carried by their stems, because the weight of the root ball can exert pressure on the roots and break them. It is best to pick the tree up by the ball itself or to roll the ball along the ground. If the ground is frozen or if the tree cannot be planted immediately, it should be placed in a sheltered area and the root ball heavily mulched.
To plant, an area four to five times the size of the root ball should be tilled to a depth of 6 inches. A planting hole the same diameter and slightly shallower than the root ball is recommended. Natural burlap can be left around the roots if it is too difficult to remove, but treated burlap or nylon should be removed. After planting, two to three inches of mulch over the disturbed area is beneficial. The tree should be watered after planting, but fertilizer application is best done in the spring after the tree has started to grow.
The above procedures are considered the minimum required to establish a living Christmas tree into the landscape. Other cultural practices are necessary if the planted tree is to thrive in its new environment. These practices include soil management (mulching, irrigation, fertilization, etc.), insect and disease identification, evaluation and control, and periodic shaping to maintain the "Christmas tree" look. A significant amount of dedication is required by the homeowner if a living Christmas tree is to be established and grown. However, individuals who are successful can point with pride at their efforts, which will always remind them of a past holiday season.
For those who chose to purchase cut trees, the family tree after Christmas represents a source of organic waste. Most consumers simply put the tree out with the rest of the household garbage to be carted off to a landfill. Depending upon your situation, however, there may be other alternatives to disposing of your tree. The tree could be placed in the backyard, adorned with bits of bread and suet, and used as a bird feeder. In the spring, the tree could be chipped for mulch or burned for fuel. Farmers with ponds have found that a couple of Christmas trees, properly weighted down, provide good habitat for fish. Some communities even provide special chipper services for Christmas trees, with the chips either sold or used for landscaping purposes in city flowerbeds, parks, etc.
In Albemarle County a Christmas Tree Recycling Program will be available from December 26 to January 16. The Christmas Tree Recycling Program collects discarded Christmas trees which are chipped into mulch and then offered to the public at no cost. This program has been in operation since 1988 and recycles over 3000 trees each year; which in turn yields over 144 cubic yards of mulch. Not only does this recycling program provide citizens a place to dispose of a potentially large and cumbersome item, it also reduces the impact on our landfill.
By combining forces with the Charlottesville Curb Side Pick-Up Program, the two programs collected over 5600 trees last year, yielding approximately 268 cubic yards of mulch. According to the City Public Works Department, their curbside pick up will be the week of January 12th, 2009. Trees must be at the curbside by 7am. Shortly after the City curbside pick up, the County and City Parks & Recreation crews will team up to chip the estimated 2600 trees at Darden Towe Park.
As a reminder, this program is for Christmas trees only, please no yard waste. Both the County & City programs require that all decorations, stands and nails be removed from the Christmas trees.
Free mulch will be available to citizen by February 2, 2009, at Darden Towe Park.
The County will operate seven sites daily, 7am till dark. The sites are as follows:
- Chris Greene Lake in Earlysville
- Crozet Park
- Darden Towe Park
- Greenwood Community Center
- *Rivanna Solid Waste Authority Recycling Center on McIntire Road (*note: Sunday hours are 12noon 5pm)
- Scottsville Community Center
- Walnut Creek Park
* The RSWARC on McIntire Rd. may be congested, please consider Darden Towe Park as an alternate location that has easy access and is suited better for large loads and contract haulers.
For more information about this and other landscape topics contact your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office. The local Virginia Cooperative Extension office numbers are Albemarle 872-4580, Fluvanna 591-1950, Greene 985-5236, Louisa 540-967-3422, and Nelson 263-4035.