It’s a cherished Christmas tradition — a freshly chopped tree in the living room filling the home with the scent of the season. But while a time-honored practice, some people are beginning to question the cost of all those felled conifers.
It takes an average Christmas tree about a decade to reach the right height, which is a whole lot of time spent growing just to be put on display in the home for a few weeks before being trucked off to the city dump.
Plastic trees are an alternative, but unless you plan to deck out your fake fir with car air fresheners, you’re not going to get that all-important whiff of Christmas. And all the plastic that goes into a fake tree doesn’t make them any more environmentally friendly.
But a few Christmas tree companies have found an innovative middle ground that doesn’t sacrifice authenticity or the environment. They rent “living Christmas trees,” which are live, potted trees that can be replanted when the holidays are over.
Not only are these trees better for the environment, but because they stay alive through the Christmas season, they stay greener and smell better.
“When you have something alive in the room, it’s a whole different atmosphere than when you have something slowly dying or something plastic,” said Scott Martin, owner of The Living Christmas Tree Co. in Southern California.
Martin’s company drops off the tree in December and then picks it up after the holidays.
“What we do with that tree is after the holiday season: My elves pick it up and we look for reclaimed land and to give it purpose,” Martin said.
Recently he’s worked with Shell Oil to create a small forest on six acres of reclaimed land in South California, and last year alone, the company rented out and planted just over 1,000 trees.
If you don’t have a lot renting trees in your city, don’t worry, said John Fogel, owner of The Original Living Christmas Tree Co. in Portland, Ore. You can always head to a garden center, which is sure to have plenty of potted spruce, pine and fir on hand.
However, if you do plan to get a living tree, take note that it is a little different than a regular cut tree.
“This isn’t for everybody, said Martin. “The tree needs love. They are not a static thing; you need to be willing to be involved in this.”
A potted tree will probably need to be watered more than a regular tree, so make sure to keep the soil damp.
While many people like to get their trees shortly after Thanksgiving, potted trees can’t spend more than about three weeks indoors. A warm home is no different from springtime to a tree. So too much time indoors will cause the tree to start growing, sending out fresh branches that will be damaged when the tree is moved out into the cold.
While many living Christmas tree companies will pick the tree up after the holidays, renters often do have the option of keeping the tree. If you do decide to plant your tree, wait until the ground has fully thawed in the spring; it’s OK to store the tree in the garage through the winter.
Cover the tree with a sheet of burlap once you move it outside, as the sudden shock of full sun can burn the branches, Martin said. Uncover it for a few hours more each day until it gets used to the sun.
Other than that, your tree just needs lots of love.