Make Your Christmas Tree Truly Evergreen

Carrie Stevenson
Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Agent
Escambia County Extension

Choosing a Christmas tree is one of the big decisions every year. There are many very realistic-looking options for artificial trees these days, and they are a great way for families to reduce waste by reusing the same tree year after year. However, a live Christmas tree brings "the great outdoors" inside and smells wonderful, even if you do have to deal with those pesky falling needles. Many cut trees will last over a month with good watering, but when the holidays are over, what do you do with your tree?

The evergreen leaves and red berries of a Savannah holly are perfect for a "live" Christmas tree. Photo Credits: Carrie Stevenson, Escambia County

Many cities and counties offer a Christmas tree recycling program, in which trees can be left at drop-off sites or on the curb for pickup. Most municipalities turn the trees into mulch and use it at public facilities. Many individuals reuse trees by placing them in lakes or other water bodies as fish habitats, creating reefs for hiding and nesting. However, be sure and check with local environmental agencies before placing trees under water. If you own a good bit of land or a wooded area, you can lay your old tree out for small mammals and birds to use as shelter. It will eventually biodegrade and add nutrients to the soil. Be sure that if you take advantage of any of these recycling options that you remove all ornaments, tinsel, or other decorations which could be hazardous to animals and/or wood-chipping machines.

There is an option to truly keep your tree evergreen—a live Christmas tree! Many retailers sell potted trees that can be brought inside and decorated, then planted outside after the season is over. One of the plants often associated with this festive time of year is holly, which is an excellent choice for evergreen color throughout the year. There are many native varieties, such as yaupon holly, red cedar, or sand pine for drier areas and myrtle-leaved holly for wetlands. In addition, there are several dwarf species and the popular ‘Nellie R. Stevens’, a cross between American and Chinese holly. Hollies are typically used as shrubs in the landscape, although many species can grow into small trees if allowed; the East Palatka holly can be as tall as 45 feet at maturity! Hollies are also an excellent food choice for attracting birds, and the shrubs work wonderfully as a natural screen. Now is a great time to plant a new tree--and by the holiday season next year it should be ready to decorate!

A live tree or one planted and decorated outdoors is a wonderful way to commemorate a special Christmas and help replant our community after having lost so many trees to hurricanes. No matter what type of tree you chose for Christmas this year, there are many options for recycling!