The best time to trim trees is typically in the winter, when cold weather tells your trees it is time to go dormant. Certain woody shrubs, such as rhododendrons and azaleas, need to be pruned after they have flowered in the spring.
There is no right or wrong time of year to recycle tree trimmings. The best way to recycle this type of yard waste is to compost it. Composting is a process of breaking down organic matter and turning into a nutrient-rich soil additive. It is recycling at its very best.
If you have tree trimmings you need to recycle, you have a couple of different options. Many communities now offer curbside yard waste or green waste recycling. If yours is one of them, you can recycle your tree trimmings through that program (although it is important to note that you may need to cut those tree trimmings down – more on that later).
Larger communities may have private businesses that accept tree trimmings for composting and recycling. Or, if you have a yard and garden, you might consider recycling your tree trimmings yourself.
Is it important to recycle tree trimmings?
Compost is beneficial for a number of reasons. Besides giving plants vital nutrients they need to grow, it provides them with beneficial bacteria that can fight off harmful invaders. It also helps conserve water by lowering evaporation and allowing soil to hold more moisture.
When yard waste is composted, oxygen-loving bacteria cooperate with fungi, insects, worms and a host of other small organisms to break down organic matter.
When yard waste is landfilled, it gets covered with other trash and must break down in an anaerobic environment (one without oxygen). Anaerobic bacteria give off methane, an extremely harmful greenhouse gas. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) reports that methane is 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The only other greenhouse gas the United States produces in higher quantities is carbon dioxide. Furthermore, only the energy and agriculture industries create more methane than the country’s landfills.
Landfilling tree trimmings has another negative effect. Tree trimmings and other types of yard waste take up an enormous amount of space in landfills. The EPA estimates that 13.5 percent of all municipal solid waste is yard trimmings. Keeping yard waste out of landfills means they will last longer and we can build fewer of them.
How to recycle tree trimmings
Many communities now offer regular curbside recycling services for tree trimmings and other types of yard waste. Salt Lake City, Sacramento and Waco all have hauling companies that provide residents with green waste recycling bins.
Some places allow you to put all your tree trimmings in that bin, although most have size restrictions. Other towns want only the leaves and the smallest branches in the bin. Paola, Kansas, for example, does not allow tree limbs to be mixed in with lawn clippings and weeds.
Instead, Paola and quite a few other communities ask residents to tie tree trimmings into bundles and leave them next to the yard waste bin. For example, in University City, Missouri, the Public Works and Parks Department requires sticks be put in bundles no more than two feet around. The bundles must be tied with string or twine (preferably something biodegradable, one would imagine). They will only pick up tree branches that are less than three inches in diameter and four feet in length. The maximum number of bundles the waste hauler will pick up in one day is six.
Even if your waste hauler does not offer curbside tree trimming collection on a weekly or every other weekly basis, they may do special collections throughout the year. Golden, Colorado, arranges yard waste collection days in the spring and fall. Coralville, Iowa, picks up tree trimmings and other green waste seasonally. Its service begins during the third week of March or after snowmelt and ends November 30.
If you cannot wait for your town’s next yard waste collection day, many larger communities have private companies that accept woody waste. Resident of Hillsboro, Beaverton and other Portland suburbs have several from which to choose, including Landscape Products & Supply, Northwest Environmental Recycling and WoodCo.
Also, check with your city or county’s recycling center. An increasing number of municipalities operate composting facilities that will take your tree trimmings. Lincoln, Nebraska’s Bluff Road Yard Waste Composting program is one example.
Tips for composting tree trimmings at home
Tree trimmings can be hard to compost at home because the large pieces of wood take so long to break down. If you have a compost bin or pile, feel free to add the leaves and small twigs
from your deciduous trees. Living leaves will provide a good source of nitrogen for the beneficial bacteria that break down your compost. The twigs, besides supplying the bacteria with carbon, create space in the pile. This is important because it allows oxygen for the bacteria to keep flowing in.
If your tree trimmings are from coniferous trees, plan to add the twigs but not the needles. The needles from pine, cedar and similar trees will not break down well in your pile.
If you want to add any larger branches generated from your tree trimming endeavors, you may want to chip them or find another way to break them down first. Or, if you have a lot of property, you can bury them or simply place them in a pile. Like all organic matter, they will break down eventually no matter what you do.