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What should you do with your real Christmas tree?

recycling Christmas trees

Now that Twelfth Night is almost upon us, those of you who bought a real Christmas tree will probably be wondering what to do with it.

If you have a cut or a containerised tree (which by now is probably looking very sorry for itself), you’ll need to recycle it.

Some councils have special kerb-side collections for Christmas, while others ask you to cut it up and put it in your green waste bin. Check with yours for details.

Most Christmas trees are too large to go through domestic garden shredders and can only be sensibly handled by the chippers used by tree surgeons.

Once chipped, the resulting waste often ends up as a bark and wood mulch that can be spread on the garden.

Alternatively, it’s added to soft green waste, such as leaves and grass clippings, to make green compost. Many councils sell these products directly to the public, or to compost manufacturers, or use it in parks and gardens around the borough.

Keeping a container-grown tree

If you splashed out on a container-grown tree, you’ll want to protect your investment and ensure your tree remains healthy so you can use it from one year to the next.

The best way to care for your tree for the following year is to keep it in the pot. Most traditional Christmas trees are fast-growing and in the ground they can grow by a metre a year.

Position carefully

Although Christmas trees are tough and can deal with snow and ice, they still need some careful handling as they move from the warm inside into cold, damp and possibly frosty conditions outside.

For the first few weeks, put your tree in a sheltered spot out of the wind, such as close to a house wall, where it can get used to lower temperatures. If heavy frosts are forecast, cover it with sacking or horticultural fleece to give it extra protection.

Once it’s acclimatised, find a sunny spot for it that, again, is out of the wind. This should be somewhere you can easily keep it watered, as your tree will struggle to survive if you let it dry out. Remember to water it regularly, especially in warm or windy weather.

Feeding and repotting

Give your tree a feed in the spring as it starts to grow again. As conifers hate lime in the soil, use an ericaceous fertiliser, which you can buy from any garden centre. Choose a controlled-release ericaceous fertiliser that will release its nutrients over many months.

When the roots are coming through the base of the pot, repot it into a bigger container. Choose one that’s slightly larger than the existing pot, with room for a couple of centimetres of extra compost all around the roots.

Buy an ericaceous compost that’s formulated for lime-hating plants, and mix it with one part horticultural grit or sand to three parts compost. You can find both of these in your local garden centre.


Your tree probably won’t need pruning unless it’s growing out of shape. If it’s looking uneven, nip a little off the new growth in spring. Only prune it by a few centimetres, to encourage your tree to bush out.

Sadly, keeping large trees in a pot isn’t a long-term option and you’ll only be able to reuse your tree for around three years. After this time, plant it in the garden if you have the room for a full-grown tree. Otherwise, check with your local council on how to send it for recycling.

What do you do with your Christmas tree? Or do you have a container-grown one that you’ve reused for longer than three years?


This comment was removed at the request of the user

Wow, I’ve never heard of that Duncan! Might have to boil a branch up tonight for my tea 😛 although my tree is looking a bit sorry so I don’t think it’ll be all that tasty!

This year I’m making a small donation to a local charity who will be collecting and recycling Christmas trees. I think I might give a potted tree a whirl next year, although I’m not particularly green fingered so it’s doubtful that I’ll be able to keep it going for any more than one Christmas.

David Trim says:
2 May 2017

David Trim
Christmas trees are composted after collection when Christmas is over.

“As conifers hate lime in the soil”. Many years ago we bought a tree with the remains of its roots, and planted it on our soil – a little alkaline. When it had grown to 20 feet (6m until Brexit) and was looking pretty unattractive, I cut it down. So they seem to tolerate some soils other than acid.

I still have last year’s cut tree at the bottom of the garden – looks just like this years, but covered in rust-brown needles instead of green. I had considered buying a couple of cans of green spray paint and resurrecting it – we put the tree on the patio outside the glass doors so we’d have got away with it. But instead spent £20 on a freshly cut one. Its all part of the Christmas ritual, isn’t it?

I cut the “fronds” with their needles off the previous year’s tree and spread then on the ground under the strawberry plants to keep the berries off the earth, and the slugs off the berries. That worked, although I had to cage them to keep the birds off. This year I have some straw bales so will use those. The trunk makes a good support in the garden.

Malcolm says:
7 January 2017

Any reason why you can’t just burn it in a garden incinerator and mix the ashes into the soil?

Be very careful if you make tea with the needles! Be absolutely certain you have not bought a young Yew tree…..it could make you critically ill!

Interestingly, pine tea from spruce needles can also act as an abortifacient – all herbal teas have to bve studied carefully before use. The Tamarack Paine tree, for example. is a strong Laxative but Birch makes a pleasant drink.

If you have a neighbour who keeps goats pass it to them. The goats absolutely love the needles.