7 Ways to Recycle Your Christmas Tree to Help Animals and the Environment

It's that time of year again-stockings hang empty on the fireplace mantle, candy canes that once adorned the tree have long since been eaten and packages are empty and stripped of their finery.

Now comes the age-old dilemma: What to do with that real tree? We've got a few ideas to put that retired tree to good use to help you, the environment and your wild neighbors. Caution: Make sure the tree has no tinsel on it before you incorporate it into your landscape.

1. Stand your tree outside near bird feeders for added cover for birds

2. Need an indoor project for the kids while they're out of school? Have them make birdie edibles to adorn the tree

  • Cover pinecones with peanut butter and dip them in birdseed or sunflower seeds.
  • Make dried bagel wreathes-cut the bagels in half, smear the sides with peanut butter, dip them in seed and tie them securely to the tree with string.
  • String unsalted popcorn, cranberries, oranges, peanuts in the shell and other bird goodies to hang in the tree.

3. Have a natural pond or lake? Sink the tree to create fish habitat

4. Make a brush pile

5. Lay the tree down in your yard to provide a wildlife shelter or a habitat for beneficial insects

6. Turn the tree into mulch

Let the tree dry out so the needles fall off, and rake the needles up for mulch. And if you own or have access to a wood chipper, you can grind the trunk, too. Spread the mulch around to feed acid-loving plants and to provide a home for shrews, who don't live in burrows so much as in litter and decaying plant matter on the ground.

7. Recycle the tree

Check with your county's local waste management department to see if you have a local tree recycling program, or check out Earth911 for a recycling location near you.

Make a resolution for the new year

Next season, think live. Get a balled or potted tree that can be planted after the holidays. You'll avoid the "what to do with a dead tree blues," and you'll provide cover and a nesting place for birds for years to come.

Janet Snyder is The HSUS outreach and education manager for wildlife and habitat protection.