Those brittle branches are a fire hazard, so here are some Christmas tree disposal tips
It's that time of year that raises a nagging question: When should you take down your Christmas tree?
If it's real, don't wait until the traditional tannenbaum looks as shriveled as the Griswold family's turkey dinner.
"You know once it's dry and dropping needles, you do need to get rid of it. Safety first," said Julie Janoski, manager of the Morton Arboretum's plant clinic.
Here are some of her tips for disposing of live Christmas trees.
Prevent a holiday disaster
Pack up ornaments and remove a natural tree from your home as soon as it shows signs of drying out: The needles will become brittle, and it will no longer take up water.
"A dry Christmas tree will burn very, very quickly if there's a spark," Janoski said.
Never try to burn your Christmas tree in the fireplace or a wood stove. Creosote, a flammable tar, is created when evergreens burn.
"It can build up in your chimney, and it's flammable," and it could lead to a chimney fire, Janoski said.
The Lake County Forest Preserve District is collecting old holiday trees until the start of February. Be sure to take off the decorations. Donated trees will be chipped and used for trails and landscaping.
Drop-off sites are available daily, from 6:30 a.m. to sunset, at eight forest preserve locations: Grant Woods near Fox Lake; Greenbelt near Waukegan; Half Day near Vernon Hills; Heron Creek near Long Grove; Lakewood near Wauconda; Old School near Libertyville; Ryerson Woods near Deerfield; and Van Patten Woods near Wadsworth.
Many municipalities and waste management companies also recycle trees into mulch or compost.
"As that wood breaks down, which can happen over a year or so usually, it will put organic matter, which is matter that used to be alive, and also nutrients back in your soil," Janoski said.
Recycling trees at home
Cut off the branches and lay those boughs over garden beds until spring to provide a layer of insulation for your soil. Mulching your garden beds that way will help keep the soil temperature and moisture a "bit more even" through freeze-thaw cycles, Janoski said.
If you have the space, put up an old tree in your backyard to offer winter shelter to birds that don't migrate and other small animals.
And if you're crafty, Janoski offers another alternative to dragging your tree to the curb.
"There's lots of craft and decor projects, coasters, bird feeders, that kind of thing that people are doing with wood that they're recycling from their properties now," she said.