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What to do with your old Christmas tree in LA County

Christmas trees can be recycled and turned into mulch, so why not do that? The best way to dispose of your tree depends on where you live.
Christmas trees can be recycled and turned into mulch, so why not do that? The best way to dispose of your tree depends on where you live.
Photo by sea-turtle via Flickr Creative Commons

The presents have been unwrapped. The eggnog has been drunk (or not). The family arguments have all been had. Christmas is officially over and that means you have to do something about that conical cutting of dried branches and needles known as your Christmas tree.

You could toss it on the sidewalk and wait for the Christmas Tree Fairy to pick it up, but since that isn't an official job title in any municipality that we know of, you might want to consider other options.

A three-month-old female lion named Dominjoon and a three-month-old female tiger named Jangbori play with Christmas trees at the Everland amusement park on December 23, 2014 in Yongin, South Korea.
A three-month-old female lion named Dominjoon and a three-month-old female tiger named Jangbori play with Christmas trees at the Everland amusement park on December 23, 2014 in Yongin, South Korea.
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

1. Compost it

Christmas tree needles are "quite resilient to the usual composting bacteria so take ages to breakdown," according to some British people who know about these things. The trunk can take even longer. Your best bet is to shred the tree or at least cut it up: "Otherwise, it could easily be next Christmas or the one after that before you start seeing any progress."

Four-year old Vera Martin prepares the Christmas tree at her home on the island of Tenerife on December 8, 2013.
Four-year old Vera Martin prepares the Christmas tree at her home on the island of Tenerife on December 8, 2013.
DESIREE MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images

2. Make mulch

Similar to composting, you'll need to remove the branches from the tree. Then you layer the boughs over bulbs and perennials to keep the soil temperature consistent. You can also cut the branches into smaller pieces using clippers or scissors before laying them on top of your garden. 

Christmas trees on display for sale on December 8, 2011 in London, England.
Christmas trees on display for sale on December 8, 2011 in London, England.
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

3. Make wood chips

You'll need a wood chipper for this one, so maybe you and a bunch of neighbors want to chip in (see what we did there?) to rent the machine together. Hours of dangerous fun! But don't go all Gaear-Grimsrud-in-Fargo on anyone else. This Old House says: "Next spring, spread the wood chips under shrubs; they'll suppress weeds and, as they decompose, add nutrients to the soil."

Workers prepare the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree before standing it up on November 14, 2012 in New York City.
Workers prepare the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree before standing it up on November 14, 2012 in New York City.
John Moore/Getty Images

4. Build a bonfire

This is more our speed, mainly because it involves less effort. You chop up the trunk and branches, then toss them into a fire pit. Don't have a fire pit or a working fireplace? Head to Dockweiler Beach in Playa Del Rey, one of the few Southern California beaches where you can still light up a bonfire.

Serbs burn oak branches during Christmas Eve in front of the Saint Sava church in Belgrade, on January 6, 2012.
Serbs burn oak branches during Christmas Eve in front of the Saint Sava church in Belgrade, on January 6, 2012.
ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images

5. Make coasters from the trunk

Being crafty helps if you plan to repurpose your Christmas tree into decor, but anyone can do it. All you need to do is use a chop or miter saw to slice the trunk in 1/2-inch thick slabs, sand the slabs either by hand or with an electric sander, stain the sanded slabs (we recommend a light golden brown), let the stain dry, coat the coasters with a polyurethane sealer, let that layer dry, cut out felt circles to fit the bottom of each coaster and glue the felt circles onto each coaster. See? It's as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.

Or buy some tree trunk coasters on Etsy and pretend you made them.

Eskil Andersson inspects trees at his Christmas tree farm in Sankt Olof in southern Sweden on December 19, 2017.
Eskil Andersson inspects trees at his Christmas tree farm in Sankt Olof in southern Sweden on December 19, 2017.
JOHAN NILSSON/AFP/Getty Images

6. Have the city pick it up

Most areas in L.A. County offer curbside recycling services and/or drop-off sites. To take advantage of curbside recycling, remove all ornaments, tinsel, lights, nails, plastic containers and tree stands. Place your tree on the curb next to your recycling and trash bins on collection day. Most haulers will pick up trees starting the day after Christmas until Jan. 12. In most cases, flocked trees aren't accepted and you'll need to cut down trees that are larger than 6-feet. You can get all the details here for your city.

The county turns the trees into mulch that residents can usually pick up for free. This year, the Lopez Canyon facility in Sylmar won't be able to do that due to damage sustained in the Creek Fire.

A Christian Palestinian man dressed up as Santa Claus walks waves as he sits on Christmas trees in Jerusalem's Old City on December 21, 2015.
A Christian Palestinian man dressed up as Santa Claus walks waves as he sits on Christmas trees in Jerusalem's Old City on December 21, 2015.
GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images

7. Turn it into art

If we've learned one thing from attending our friends' art school exhibitions, it's that anything can be art. Anything. A pile of pencil shavings? That's a timeless and timely exploration of how technology destroys and creates modalities for communication. An empty room with nothing but a window and a fire escape? "It’s like everything and nothing at the same time." (Practice saying that with a straight face.)

How can you apply this to your Christmas tree?

Don't remove any ornaments and leave your tree standing. Over the course of several months, let the tree dry or rot or do whatever it's going to do. When anyone asks, tell them it's a time-based art installation. The desiccated pine needles could be a comment on the domestic drudgery that women are still saddled with in pursuit of domestic bliss. The dusty and broken ornaments still hanging from the branches are a metaphor for the hollowness of our consumerist lifestyles. The sky's the limit. Make sure to use a lot of big words and consider applying for an NEA grant before the federal government eliminates them. Good luck!

As part of the
As part of the "Once Upon a Place" installation by artist Aman Mojadidi, the Naked Cowboy visits a phone booth in Times Square on June 27, 2017. The interactive public art installation allows people to step into repurposed telephone booths and listen to personal stories of immigration from New Yorkers.
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images