Creative ways to recycle your Christmas tree in Virginia

Jessica LewisUnsplash

By Amie Knowles

January 3, 2024

The new year’s here, and all of that prep for the holidays is done. While the desire to keep the Christmas lights twinkling might last another week or two (or, let’s be honest, a lot longer), there are certain safety measures to consider if you selected a fresh cut tree.

Sure, they look and smell amazing. There’s little more that can bring the nostalgia of years gone by indoors quite like a handpicked Christmas tree. But after a few weeks, it’s time to return them to the great outdoors—or at least, outside of your doors.

To maintain their appearance, trees require water. Even the best-kept trees dry within approximately five weeks, according to Better Homes & Gardens. When the branches start to sag and the needles appear to prefer the floor to the tree, it’s time to let it go.

Chances are good that you picked your pine from one of Virginia’s 500 Christmas tree farms. But where can you take it once the season ends? In the commonwealth, there are a multitude of options to choose from, as well as many unique fates to select.

Before you drop off your tree or take it to the curb, please remember to remove all lights, ornaments, tinsel, garland, and other decorations.

Donate to the animals

At Remix Market Williamsburg, it’s beginning to look a lot more like Christmas—even though the season has ended. That’s because The Junkluggers (Williamsburg) partnered with the Virginia Living Museum to collect Christmas trees to be used in animal habitats.

The collection will continue through Jan. 11. To donate a tree to the cause, there are two options. Clients can either schedule free tree removal with any size job booked with The Junkluggers, or they can drop off their tree at Remix Market Williamsburg, the company’s retail location. If you’re planning to bring the tree yourself, donations are accepted on Jan. 6 between 8:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Please do not transport trees directly to the Virginia Living Museum.

Revitalize your area

Does a manicured lawn bring a smile to your face? If you live in Loudoun, getting mulch just got a lot cheaper, thanks to Christmas tree donations.

Through mid-January, several locations in the area are offering tree recycling (click here for a list of participants). The county will turn the recycled trees into mulch, and that product will be available for free to residents while supplies last. Mulch pickup will take place at the Loudoun County Landfill.

Gone fishin’

Yes, this idea might seem a little fishy at first, but it’s actually quite helpful for the environment. Throughout Virginia, a variety of lakes benefit from proper Christmas tree disposal. One of them is Claytor Lake in Pulaski County.

Every year, Claytor Lake State Park collects fresh cut Christmas trees, which they use to create artificial reefs for underwater wildlife.

Donations will be accepted through Jan. 14 in the marina parking lot. For those interested in helping prepare the trees for the water, there’s a signup sheet available online. The official tree deployment date is set for Jan. 18.

There’s a special perk for tree donors, too: The day of your donation, you receive free park admission.

Save the sand dunes

Sand dunes are an important part of Virginia’s shorefront ecosystem. Old Dominion University notes that the features are “resilient natural barriers to the destructive forces of coastal storms, and offer the least expensive and most efficient defense against flooding tides and waves.”

However, dunes are prone to erosion and redistribution—especially after a storm. In an effort to combat erosion, provide nutrients for beach plants, and foster habitats for beach animals, the Virginia Aquarium recently announced at partnership with Marine Stewards America to collect and recycle Christmas trees.

The self-serve tree drop off option is available to the public through Jan. 6. Simply drive to the aquarium’s east parking lot to locate the designated donation area. Those planning to bring trees are encouraged to register online.

DIY projects

If you’d rather not part with your tree—or would like to keep a small piece to remember the season—a do-it-yourself project might be the right choice for you.

There are several creative options, but one of the simplest is sawing your tree into decorative logs. A stack of three by the fireplace, tied with jute, creates a wintry scene with minimal effort.

Just be sure not to actually light the DIY display, at least not indoors. The Prince William County government website warns against burning tree branches, treated wood, and wrapping paper in a home fireplace. Sap content can burn quickly and explosively, and a fire involving a dried Christmas tree can easily get out of control.

Another option is to saw off a quarter-inch slice near the bottom and use the piece of wood to create a Christmas ornament for the following year. You can paint a holiday scene or simply write the year you got the tree on the makeshift decor.

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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