California Company Lets You Rent a Live Christmas Tree

©. Scott Martin, Founder of The Living Christmas Co.

As the name suggests, The Living Christmas Co. isn’t in the business of cutting down trees. Instead, they rent out live trees in big pots, ready to be decked out for the holidays.

Many people don’t like the idea of cutting down a tree to decorate every year for Christmas, but on the other hand, fake trees are often made overseas and can come with a pretty big carbon footprint themselves. A few years back, The New York Times reported that a fake tree would have to be used over 20 times to be greener than decorating a cut tree each year.

The Living Christmas Co. offers an alternative. When the season ends, the company picks the trees up and houses them in a brownfield that used to be an oil refinery. Martin said that because the trees have their own soil, they’re easy to move.

If you become particularly attached to your tree, you can tag it and have the same tree brought back next year. Just keep in mind that these trees are still growing, so it will be a bit bigger. If trees become too large or otherwise unsuitable to rent, they are donated to tree-planting projects.

Since their first trial Christmas in 2008, Martins said that only about 2 to 3 percent of their trees die during the holiday season, usually due to people forgetting to water them. “By and large if you go out of your way to rent a living tree, you’re going to be more conscientious,” said Martins, although the company does send email reminders about watering. Trees that die are mulched.

The company only grows local varieties of trees, so the yard of 3,000 trees essentially amounts to a kind of mobile forest. That said, this forest is attractive to other native creatures—like ants. Martin said this has prevented him from being able to grow organic trees. “If every tree I deliver is full of ant or spiders, I wouldn’t have a business next year. We’re trying to find that balance.”

Martin said the goal of the company is be regenerative, giving back both to the environment and the community. The tree nursery employs three developmentally challenged individuals. For deliveries, Martin said he turned to the Veterans Affairs office, where he found great drivers, “who are used to driving much larger vehicles than we use.”

The Living Christmas Co. maps out deliveries to minimize trips—and thus further reducing the carbon footprint of each tree. This means you can’t pick your own tree out, but instead means that 20 or 30 trees can be delivered on one trip. “We try to avoid single trips to our lot,” said Martin.

In addition to tree rental, the company also offers its customers a number of other eco-minded services, including gift wrap recycling and collecting used clothes and toys for Amvets.

“You definitely have to sing Christmas carols for it,” founder Scott Martin joked when I asked if caring for for a Christmas tree is different from other houseplants. Other than that, caring for it is pretty straightforward, just regular water—he recommends using ice cubes.