Yes, you can compost your old Christmas tree
A live Christmas tree is 100% biodegradable and easily recycled. Therefore, it makes an excellent base for your compost.
Although most communities offer curbside pickup for Christmas trees once the season is over, you may opt to leave it behind and discard it on your own. Just make sure to never burn your Christmas tree as it may speed up creosote buildup, causing a chimney fire. Instead, consider composting it to reduce it to hummus compost to use in your garden or backyard.
Composting a Christmas tree turns it into black gold, which can be used around the garden. Composting provides a great and positive way to remove a Christmas tree from your home as it provides some of the following benefits;
- Composting eliminates hundreds of pounds of usable organic waste that is sent to landfills each year, especially during the Christmas festivities.
- Minimize greenhouse gases.
- Reduce dumping and littering
- Balances your soil’s texture
Why compost a Christmas tree?
Composting a Christmas tree is one of the smartest things you can do for your garden. These trees are a great source of nutrients and minerals and composting provides the perfect way of getting these valuable minerals and minerals back into your garden or yard. So take advantage of these free sources of goodness for your garden.
How do Christmas tree needles react and change the existing compost pile
Most people who compost their Christmas trees avoid using needles because of the misconception that it will make the compost more acidic. Although needles have a pH level of between 3.2 and 3.8, when they fall from the tree, this level goes to nearly neutral pH after composting. Therefore, you can safely add needles to your compost without fear that it will acidify your soil and harm your plants.
Another reason why needles are avoided is that they break down slowly. Their waxy coating makes it hard for bacteria and fungi to penetrate and break it down. Also, their low pH limits the microorganisms in the compost from functioning fully making the process even slower. To mitigate this, use aged pine needles that served as mulch for a season to speed up the process.
How to compost a Christmas tree
Composting provides an easy and efficient way to grow healthy plants and protect the environment. Fortunately, you can compost your Christmas tree naturally at home. The compost you create can be used to improve any garden or yard by increasing soil quality and allowing better water drainage and aeration. It’s also a great way to decrease your environmental carbon footprint by reducing or completely eliminating the use of artificial pesticides, fertilizer, and landfill waste. Here is a step by step guide on how to compost a Christmas tree.
What you will need to compost a Christmas Tree
There are several tools that can be crucial to making the best possible compost in the quickest amount of time. you can find a full list in our Tools For Composting section. I’ve included a basic list below.
Pruners / Clippers
Step 1: Strip the Christmas tree clean and break it down
Start by removing all the ornaments, lights, tinsel, wires, nails, stands and other non-organic decorative materials from your tree. Remove any plastics wrapped around the tree and discard them.
To quickly break down the tree start by pruning all the branches
Step 2: Get a compost bin
When looking to compost your Christmas tree within a bin, an important factor when choosing the bin is its size.
Even if you opt to go the DIY way and build one from scratch, the bin’s size should be approximately (3’X3’X3′). A proper bin size equals proper temperature. If you buy or DIY a bin that is too small for your compost, the microbial life that is crucial for decomposition will free. On the other hand, if it is too big, the microorganisms will suffocate. Pick a spot in your backyard in a shady, well-drained and level location and you are ready to start composting your Christmas tree.
Step 3: Turn your old Christmas tree into nutrient-rich soil and food for your yard or garden
Prepare your Christmas tree
A Christmas tree is a very woody material. Therefore, if not broken down into smaller pieces, it will take too long to compost, even up to one year. Therefore, you need to break it down into smaller pieced and then mix it with other material. You can rent a chipper to cut it into smaller pieces that are 1 to 2 inches long. You can also shred your tree branches into sawdust to help it break down faster than chunks of tree branches.
Step 4: Add Material
To create good compost, you need to feed your compost bin a balanced diet, which includes two parts of carbon, preferably rich browns with one part nitrogen. Note that not everything goes into the compost bin:
Some of the things you can add include;
- Vegetable scraps
- Yard Waste: leaves and lawn clippings
- Coffee grounds and filters
Things that cannot go into the bin
- Coal Ash
- Pet droppings
- Meat and other animal products such as fish, whole eggs, yogurt, bones, fish etc.
- Synthetic chemicals
Step 4: Maintenance
If you do nothing beyond this point, your compost would be usable in about half a year. All you need to do is do some compost maintenance every now and then as time goes by. You need to monitor temperature, moisture, aeration and the nitrogen to carbon ratio for optimum levels.
One of the easiest ways to test the temperature of your compost is by sticking your hand in the center of the pile. You can also use a compost thermometer to take the compost’s temperature. The optimal temperature is anywhere between 140 to 160 degrees. This temperature is crucial for destroying pathogens and weed seeds are destroyed. Once the temperatures start dropping, then it is time to turn your compost.
The microbes working to create the perfect compost need just the right amount of water to function optimally.
Add water to the compost to maintain good levels of moisture on the bottom layer. Do not Squish or flatten you pile since you want moisture and air to reach all areas of the compost, even the inner parts, to ensure everything decomposes at the same rate. Composting works best with 40 to 40% moisture content. The compost is not left dripping wet. Keep it out in the sun all day to warm up and dry it out.
Carbon to Nitrogen Ratio
Maintain a C to N ration of 25 to 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. If the C: N ratio is too high, decomposition will slow down, and if it is too low, you will end up with a smelly pile.
Every living thing needs to breath; this is including the tiny microorganisms. Hence, make sure they receive sufficient oxygen by turning the pile regularly. One advantage of composting Christmas trees is that they do not compact. This keeps the compost pile open, allowing air to flow through freely, resulting in a hotter pile that disintegrates more quickly. Also, note that the needles will break down slower than other organic matter in your compost pile, so limit them to 10% of the total volume of the pile. You can use a compost aerator, garden fork or a large stick to mix your pile. This will help fasten up the process of breaking down.
Step 5: Wait
Finally, wait until the end product is dark, dampish, and with an earthy smell. To be sure, use a screen to analyze the material or your hands to set-apart the bigger chunks that need more time to be ready to use. Good compost should not have foul odors coming from the bin. All your hard work will bear strong, healthy plants. Once your compost is ready, add two to four inches of the highly nutritious soil to your garden, around trees and or even potted plants.
Rather than tossing your Christmas tree away, consider composting it to use in your garden, yard or even on your potted plants. Composting provides the perfect way to end your holiday season by closing the gap on wastefulness in the new year. Not only is it cheap and environmentally friendly, but it also provides an ideal way to improve and maintain a healthy garden. Alternatively, you can call your local municipality’s waste collection and find out when they are collecting Christmas tree and if they have protocols in place for recycling or composting trees.
Composting For A New Generation is a fantastic book outlining all that is required for composting. Including lots of photos and illustrations, this book has the latest information on new composting methods and equipment. Get it here.