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Living trees offer holiday cheer

Nov./Dec. 2010 California Country magazine

Rent a potted Christmas tree and start a new tradition.



Long before the first familiar notes of "Deck the Halls" ring in the holiday season, Scott "Scotty Claus" Martin and his band of merry elves are busy cultivating a new and increasingly popular Christmas tradition. They're sprucing up living Christmas trees that are grown in containers and delivered to customers' homes in the greater Los Angeles area.

And, when the last strains of "Auld Lang Syne" have faded into the new year, Scotty Claus and his helpers go back and pick up the trees. Then they'll pamper them at the Living Christmas Co. nursery in Carson until the next holiday season. Martin said this season's orders had already started arriving in August.

The operation, founded in 2008, is just getting off the ground, said Martin, who's often spotted dashing around in a Santa hat, wishing people a heartfelt "Merry Christmas!" even in the midst of summer.

For now, Martin said his biggest challenge is getting people accustomed to the idea of a renting a potted Christmas tree. "People are used to spending money on a Christmas tree as part of their holiday celebration and national numbers reflect that, but we're offering something different."

The Living Christmas Co.'s growing operation in Carson is on land once used for oil refining. It's not suitable for traditional farming or real estate development.

"I told the city's planner, 'Look, I can cover the land with Christmas trees. Because my trees are in their own soil, the trees don't care. Any flat land with a good water source will do," said Martin, who is equal parts landscape architect, urban farmer and green businessman.

"The planner introduced me to contacts at Shell Oil, who had 400 acres available. Now that the refinery is decommissioned, we've started growing trees on six acres of that land, with plans to expand."

Renting a tree for a three-week holiday stint is easy, Martin said. Customers go online (www.livingchristmas.com), pick out the native California variety they like, choose a size from 2 feet to 7 feet, which includes the container, then set the dates for delivery and pickup. Prices range from $55 to $175 for the three-week rental.

"After pickup, the tree goes back to our nursery, where it continues growing until next year," Martin explained. "Eventually, like the children who love Christmas, the trees grow up, in some cases reaching 70 to 100 feet in natural growing conditions.

"Not every tree is suitable for rental year after year. Those that do not make the cut are donated to a tree planting organization or become part of an urban reforestation project," Martin said. "After about seven years, the trees grow too large to rent and are put out to pasture, so to speak."

He said the fledgling company is still learning its place in the market, but, with growing demand, the economy doesn't seem to be a big factor.

"For example, we placed a living tree at Northrop Grumman last year through their green initiative program. This year we'll be supplying trees for their entire campus," Martin said of the global aerospace and security company.

"It's getting easier to convince people that this is an alternative for those who want to decorate for the holidays."

Kate Campbell is a reporter for California Country. She can be reached at 800-698-FARM or kcampbell@californiacountry.org.


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