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A Greener Christmas Tree

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By Debra Atlas

Every year, 25 to 30 million live Christmas trees are sold in the United States. Their ornaments and decorations help brighten our holiday. But after the holiday, they end up curbside as trash or, in towns offering such services, as recycling. A sad fate for such a wonderful part of Christmas.

Around the country, a new tradition is growing: renting a living tree for the holidays.

John Fogel was the first to offer this unique service in 1992 when he opened Original Living Christmas Tree Company in Portland, Oregon. He digs live evergreen trees up, root ball and all, pots them, then rents them for the holidays. Later, he picks them up and delivers them to parks, school districts, and other groups who pay around $10 to have the trees planted on their property.

“It’s something that’s good for business, for the environment,” Fogel says. “It’s about hope, feeling good about the planet and innovation.”

There are benefits to renting as opposed to buying a cut tree:

  • Rented trees last longer;
  • They are reused year after year until they are eventually sold and replanted as mature trees;
  • You will have less mess—and no needle loss;
  • Each tree that is rented reduces the amount of wasted holiday trees that end up in landfills; and
  • Delivery and pick-up are included in the price of the rental.

Fogel accepts only the number of orders he knows he can find buyers for who are willing to plant the trees come January. This year he’ll accept around 200 living tree orders.

People can learn to make their own potted Christmas trees with the information on Fogel’s Web site. After the holidays, simply put an ad on Craigslist or contact your local parks department to donate it for planting.

Fogel plans to expand his operation through franchising. Anyone interested should contact him via the Web site.

Since 2005, residents of San Francisco have been able to rent live Christmas trees through a partnership between the San Francisco Department of the Environment and Friends of the Urban Forest. Residents can choose from four different species of evergreen trees: southern magnolia, small leaf Tristania, the strawberry tree, and a New Zealand Christmas tree (nothing like a traditional holiday tree). People can even give the gift of a planted tree named in someone’s honor. After the holiday, the trees are picked up, then replanted in neighborhoods around the city.

It’s all on a “first come, first served” basis.

In California, there are a few well-known Christmas tree rental companies:

LivingChristmasTrees.com, founded in southern California by landscape architect Scott “Scotty Claus” Martin in 2008, serves the Los Angeles, San Diego, and Orange County areas. Customers can choose from a variety of trees, including two-foot-tall baby sequoias, hardy blue cedars, and oh-so-fragrant seven-foot-tall Monterey pines. Orders include a watering tray to protect floors and you can even “adopt” a tree that they’ll bring back to your house year after year. Customers also can purchase “green” ornaments, LED lights, and stocking stuffers.

In northern California,  RentALivingChristmasTree.com serves the Monterey Peninsula, Santa Cruz, the San Francisco South Bay area, and Salinas. Choose the date you want your tree delivered (up through December 23), and you can even visit the nursery to pick out your own tree. They also carry LED lights to keep your green tree energy efficient.

Plant Manning, founded by Eric Manning in the Santa Cruz Mountains, has been offering live Christmas tree rentals for more than 20 years. Serving both northern and southern California, Manning delivers potted Colorado Spruce or Redwood Christmas trees to your home or office in his biodiesel-fueled bus and guarantees post-holiday pick-up. And you can adopt the same tree each year.

Manning’s business model is a bit different than other live tree rental companies. Because people ask for the same tree year after year, he trims the trees like bonsais. His vision is more long term, he says. He wants to keep the trees thriving for generations.

This is the real spirit of re-use, says Manning. “And there’s no waste,” he adds.

Rates and delivery dates will vary, so check with the tree rental dealer in your area. You can go online to find one in your area.

For related articles, see:
Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree
Let There Be Light This Holiday Season!
Tree Tip

Check out more articles by Debra Atlas.

© 2011 SCGH, LLC.

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