'Twas the night before Christmas
December 12, 2010 5:56 PM   Subscribe

What happens to leftover Christmas trees?

The dead tree kind, not the ones that come in boxes. My husband says I'm wasting my question, but I really want to know what happens to cut-down trees that aren't purchased by Christmas. Does a big truck come around and shred them all up to make wood chips?
posted by Joleta to Grab Bag (15 answers total)
My in-laws sell Christmas Trees at a farm stand. They cut them short to give to soup kitchens to distribute to the patrons. (They are easier for people to carry home if they are a bit smaller.)

The rest of the leftover wood goes into a fire with other cleared brush in early spring.
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 6:08 PM on December 12, 2010

In my city we have a ice skating trail on the river (~8km). People donate their Christmas trees (after Christmas of course) to decorate the sides of the trail and I imagine unsold Christmas trees would be donated in this fashion as well. There's probably other similar re-use programs as well.

I imagine the trees are chopped up for wood chips once they can no longer be used at all.
posted by Kippersoft at 6:24 PM on December 12, 2010

In Austin, used (and as many others as can be collected) trees are chipped up and put in a big pile in the middle of a public park. After about 3 weeks, they can be used for your compost pile, and you can come over with your shovel and your bag or bucket to collect whatever you like.
posted by Gilbert at 6:25 PM on December 12, 2010

Yes, in my town left over trees and used ones are dropped off at a city park. They are chopped up for mulch that the city uses in the parks and medians.
posted by tamitang at 6:28 PM on December 12, 2010

In Texas, a lot of tree recycling programs use them for environmental purposes. This was just the first article I found but it echoes what I understand about the efforts here. Helpfully, it also explains best practices for not falling in and drowning while placing your new "fish attractors."
"...Christmas tree recycling projects include lake, river and beachfront stabilization and Delta sedimentation management," Dicke said.

...The same tree that provides hours of holiday enjoyment also can provide both a comfort zone for fish and a lucky spot for anglers. Using Christmas trees as habitat enhancers and fish attractors is an old trick that has gained newfound popularity, said Marty Brunson, Extension pond management specialist at MSU.

"When the trees are grouped and placed correctly in a pond or lake, they create shade and hiding spots for fish," Brunson explained. "The grouped trees serve the same purpose as shade trees in the summer for cattle -- the fish will be grouped around these spots."

...Place these fish attractors in three to 10 feet of water. Be sure to place attractors at different depths in the pond to ensure that as seasons and temperatures change, the fish will continue to use them. Too many attractors will cause fish to scatter, so limit the number to one or two per acre of water.

Safety is an important concern when placing the bulky attractors. The buddy system is best when taking a boat out into chilly ponds or lakes.

"Be safe -- life jackets and cold weather gear are a must. Even 40 degree water can be lethal in a short time," Brunson said. "Have a couple of partners -- one in the boat and one on the bank. This is important any time of year, but especially important in winter."

Fish attractors are great additions to your own ponds, but may not be welcome in other bodies of water.

"Do not put attractors into public water. Some lakes have restrictions against such activity," Brunson said. "Check with local lake managers such as the state Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; they often will accept donated trees and install them as a public service. Collecting trees for donation to management agencies is a good holiday project for youth groups, hunting and fishing clubs or church or civic groups."
posted by pineapple at 6:41 PM on December 12, 2010

Near where I grew up the coastal rangers collect them and use them to encourage sand dunes to form. The waste disposal people also chip 'em and compost them, but my mum prefers the sand dune option.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 6:46 PM on December 12, 2010

Big Cat Rescue in Tampa FL uses donated Christmas trees as enrichment for the cats:
posted by feste at 7:40 PM on December 12, 2010

Best answer: Ours are collected and chipped for mulch. They call it the "Grinding of the Green". But since I always have a big outdoor oyster roast party in early January, attendees are encouraged to bring their trees to be used as fuel for the firepit which creates quite a conflagration, to be sure.

But, that's for trees that were purchased or cut down before Christmas and that wasn't really your question. Many places around here pretty much abandon their tree lots by Christmas eve and let them go for free, so there usually aren't a lot of "leftover" trees to be had. If there are, I'm sure they get chipped as well.

Not a wasted question, IMO.
posted by ourroute at 8:01 PM on December 12, 2010

In Louisiana, after Christmas, the trees were recycled as fencing to protect the wetlands, but thanks to your question, I see that that program is no more. Thank you Mr. Governor.
posted by artychoke at 8:59 PM on December 12, 2010

Best answer: A nonprofit that I am associated with sells trees. We usually disband the sale once it slows down and a few trees are left. The leftovers go to the side of the road with a free sign and are generally gone within an hour or two.
posted by hey you over in the corner at 9:29 PM on December 12, 2010

Best answer: I worked at a tree lot one season.

All of the local programs that took trees for chipping or putting in ponds or the like that people mention above charged money to take the trees. There was an excess supply of cut trees in the area that year, and the marginal value of a christmas tree drops like a rock when there are more free trees on December 24th than the demand for them.

There were several dozen unsold trees that could not be given away.

They were burned.
posted by yohko at 10:11 PM on December 12, 2010

Baby elephants eat the trees.
posted by benzenedream at 1:58 AM on December 13, 2010

Response by poster: These are all great answers to what happens to Christmas trees after Christmas. I especially liked pineapple's response about about fish attractors, feste's note about enrichment for big cats, and benzenedream's link about baby elephants eating the trees. But I marked ourroute, hey you, and yohko's answers best because they addressed what tree lots do with leftover trees. I wonder if some people just wait for Christmas Eve to pick up a free tree?
posted by Joleta at 5:40 AM on December 13, 2010

This is just seconding everyone else, but here is Augusta GA, Home Depot sponsors a mulching program, and the Army Corps of Engineers uses them for fish habitat.

I wonder if some people just wait for Christmas Eve to pick up a free tree?

Calvin's dad had a similar idea.
posted by TedW at 9:43 AM on December 13, 2010

I wonder if some people just wait for Christmas Eve to pick up a free tree?

For a couple of years, my dad and I had a bit of a tradition of doing this when I was growing up
posted by andoatnp at 8:11 PM on December 19, 2010

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