We do it every year, and happily so. A Christmas tree is a must, and so we head to the local lot and walk through the makeshift aisles of pre-cut trees in search of the perfect one. Or maybe we head a little farther out to cut our own. Once found, the tree is tied to our car and off we go, to wrestle it into a stand, shimmy it through the front door, and hope we remember to water it. After the holidays, we drag the once-vibrant-now-browning tree to the curb and vacuum up the trail of fallen needles.
It is hard to imagine Christmas without a rich smelling conifer, but it is also hard to ignore how unsustainable the system is: the tree is grown a thousand miles away, shipped here, driven to its destination, briefly enjoyed, and then discarded. Thankfully, here in Los Angeles and elsewhere, there is another option - a living Christmas tree.
A living Christmas tree is just what it sounds like: one that is still alive and potted in dirt. It can be replanted after the holidays, or, depending on it size, maintained in the pot until the next season.
If a living tree sounds appealing, then check out The Living Christmas Company (TLCCo) - a South Bay-based company that rents living Christmas trees. If you live (almost) anywhere from La Canada Flintridge to San Diego TLCCo will deliver a two to eight foot tree, using a bio-diesel truck. Just add lights and ornaments as usual, and slide presents underneath. When the holidays are over, TLCCo picks up the tree and returns it to the nursery where it can continue to grow until next Christmas. All the trees are local varieties (i.e. they thrive in this climate) and locally grown. Rent a different tree each season, or opt to adopt a tree and have the same tree delivered year after year; as your family grows, so too will your tree.
A tree from TLCCo is a bit pricier than a pre-cut tree. Expect to pay $120 - $220 for a seven foot tree, plus a delivery charge ($40 - $60 depending on size). Smaller trees cost less. TLCCo tries to accommodate delivery and pick-up date requests and recommends that you keep the tree no longer than three weeks, so that it can get back outside. Regular watering is required, and flogging and tinsel are not allowed. Otherwise you can treat your living tree just like you would a pre-cut tree; and you can take comfort in the fact that the tree will live on even after the holidays have passed.
Living trees are also available for purchase from a few area nurseries. Marina Del Rey Garden Center has a selection, as does Armstrong Garden Center (call your local store to make sure). After the holidays local variety trees can be planted in your yard or a friend’s yard.
When considering a living tree, keep in mind how it will be cared for once Christmas is over. According to the TreePeople’s website “…[I]t takes five years to plant a tree. Putting it in the ground is the easy part. Ensuring it survives takes a bit more sustained and conscious effort. But of course your planning and care pay off in beauty, shade, food, birds, health, and a more sustainable environment."
If having to replant a living tree sounds daunting, think even further outside of the box. A recent piece in Whole Living Magazine suggests considering a houseplant that will tolerate decorations (houseplants are also good if you’re short on space!), like a Myrtle Topiary, Norfolk Island Pine, or Lemon Tree. As TreePeople points out, citrus trees come with natural ornaments!
The Living Christmas Tree Company’s mission "to change the way California celebrates Christmas" is no small feat, but these folks may be on to something. After all, the Christmas tree is a holiday symbol, a holiday that celebrates joy, hope, and new life. So why wouldn’t we opt for a symbol that is itself living?
As you deck the halls this season, don’t stop at the boughs of holly. Consider bringing in a living tree as well.
Originally published November 27, 2011