What to do with your old Christmas tree

by Kate Bradbury

Where I live Christmas trees must be left in a brown bin (for food and garden waste), to ensure they will be recycled, otherwise they end up in landfill.

Christmas decorations on a Christmas treeIt's nearly Twelfth Night, so millions of Christmas trees will be disrobed and thrown away. Some will end up in landfill, while others will be dumped on roadsides, waste land and canal tow paths. Only some will be re-used, or recycled into bark chippings or compost.

Where I live Christmas trees must be left in a brown bin (for food and garden waste), to ensure they will be recycled, otherwise they end up in landfill. I know this because last year I called the council's recycling department and asked. We don’t have a brown bin, so mine and my neighbours' trees were destined for landfill. Cycling to work along the canal, I'd pass dumped trees in various states of neglect – brown, straggly and unloved – and decided my tree would have a second life. I bought it, so I'd take responsibility for it.

The tree spent a few weeks in the garden, looking just as sad as those on the canal. Then I took the secateurs to it. I removed all the branches and gathered them together in bundles for insects to shelter in. The smaller branches I composted (I was amazed how quickly they disappeared).

The tree trunk remained propped up against the shed for six months, until I had a brainwave: I'd use it to make a solitary bee hotel. I got an old wine box, chopped the trunk into pieces, drilled holes in them and then arranged them in the box with some bamboo, sunflower and teasel stems, all from the garden. The last bit of the trunk went into the pond so frogs could enter and exit more easily.

Close-up of Kate's bee hotelThis year I'll use the whole tree to make the bee hotel, without bamboo, sunflower and teasel stems. I think the combination of branches, twigs and chopped trunk will make a varied insect habitat – one which I hope will be used by leafcutter bees to breed in as well as providing ladybirds, lacewings and hoverflies shelter next winter.

Even if I had a brown bin to put my tree in I wouldn't use it now. I try to deal with all my biodegradable rubbish at home and I've never thrown anything out that won't break down eventually. My garden is 4m² but it can take a few rotting Christmas trees. I compost as much as I can, while twiggy material is bundled up and left at the back of the border to break down slowly.

Of course, to be greener still I should have avoided buying the trees in the first place, but my partner is obsessed with Christmas and an artificial tree, or no tree at all,"just wouldn’t do".

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Gardeners' World Web User 01/01/2011 at 15:27

Brilliant Kate. I have solitary Bee hotels but never from a Christmas tree. Julian

Gardeners' World Web User 02/01/2011 at 11:13

We were given a blow-up Christmas tree by a friend who didn't have enough puff to blow it up any more. So we think this is very green, even though it is a bit phallic looking. (Can we say "phallic" on the BBC?) In the past we used to let our Christmas trees dry out, and them we'd eventually burn them in the fireplace. The branches are useful also for protecting tender plants from late frosts.

Gardeners' World Web User 02/01/2011 at 11:37

How about this? it was done on sandymount strand in dublin a few years ago by artist Barbara Nealon, caused much interest and excitement! http://bit.ly/hNNpsb

Gardeners' World Web User 02/01/2011 at 12:43

I abandoned a planted (pot)Christmas tree behind a large shrub 3 years ago and every year it has been home to a wrens nest.I could not chop it up now until they stop finding it useful.All I do is clear out the old nest in the autumn.

Gardeners' World Web User 02/01/2011 at 13:14

Milo - Looks like you got away with 'phallic'. I'd prefer a fake tree to be honest but I lose the battle every year. My uncle's a wine merchant though so I've got a really lovely wine box to use to make the bee hotel emcs - That looks very beautiful but also quite eery. Moss - How lovely. Is it not a bit exposed though, or have plants grown through the branches? I've heard of Christmas trees being used to prevent soil erosion and also used to make dead hedges. Does anyone else have any nifty ideas for reusing dead trees? Kate

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