Forester’s Log: Treecycling

©Mary Stuever, December 2008


The Forester’s Log is a monthly column published in newspapers and magazines primarily in the American west. Stuever is a forester in the American Southwest. She can be reached at


When I encounter a newly coined word such as “treecycling” the cartoonist in me immediately conjures images, in this case, trees with wheels offering self-powered, pedaled modes of transportation. Of course, the pun, the fun is really all about taking that cut Christmas tree and giving it life beyond the holidays.

To be eligible to treecycle in the first place, you need to still be in that increasingly rare part of the population that brings a real tree into their homes for their holiday celebration. Environmental arguments can sway either way: those who believe trees should not ever be cut cling to the concept that an artificial tree is the preferred way to save the world. Others, who recognize the values of either thinning the natural forest, or fostering carbon sequestering, oxygen producing Christmas tree plantations, are just as adamant that a real tree leads to a better world. The last group gets to further their beliefs by participating in treecycling.

The novice treecycler can simply go on the internet to locate a place that will accept their discarded tree for continued use, usually to be ground up and used as mulch or compost. One site is Upon entering a zip code and the item to recycle (Christmas tree, in this case), the site will return a list of places to take the tree within designated mile ranges. However, there are endless opportunities for creative uses of discarded Christmas trees.

One year I made tree cookies and then turned the cookies into ornaments for future Christmases. Unlike the cookie ornaments made of dough (we made those another year), these cookies are mass produced from the tree’s stem by cutting half-inch wide cross sections with a table saw. After sanding the cross-sections, I drilled a hole near the top, pulled out my wood burner and etched a picture (I was into Mimbres designs that year), applied a final gloss and added a ribbon through the hole. One Christmas tree stem provided enough ornaments to decorate every package I wrapped the following year and overwhelm the tree with wooden cookies. I had to find a new use for the next year’s tree.

Christmas trees can be useful in erosion control when placed prodigiously. The temptation is to throw the tree into a gully, which may actually be carried by storm runoff and clog a downstream culvert, causing much larger problems. The ideal erosion control use of the tree is to lop the branches off, and then scatter branches and stem on a hill slope, oriented along the contour. Where the wood meets the ground, moving soil is arrested, reducing downstream siltation and creating micro-sites for other plants.

Of course, if there is a wood stove present in the home, the Christmas tree becomes February’s firewood, usually good for one evening of heat. However, since many homes now lack wood stoves, a person may be able to recruit trees from neighbors, friends and family and restock the woodpile. I met a couple once that tied their discarded tree to a pole near their bird feeder to provide winter cover. By the time the branches turned brown and dropped the needles, the weather was warming and the birds needed less cover, and then the tree was drier firewood.

So what am I doing with my tree this year? I regret to admit that I’ll be putting it back in the box. This year I succumbed to the dark side, and bought an artificial tree.
Please add your experiences treecycling in the comments section below. Thanks. Mary