The Upcycler: Greenest holiday ever? Here’s how to rent a sustainable Christmas tree


Common wisdom might suggest that an artificial Christmas tree, unboxed and redecorated year after year, is the smarter choice for an environmentally sound holiday home.

But many gardening and climate-change experts want homeowners to “get real” when it comes to Christmas trees and their environmental impact. And taking this eco sensibility a step further, select nurseries and other specialty services have introduced live-tree rentals in recent years.

Rentals often mean sharing the care of a tree throughout the year — tended in their pot by homeowners during the peak holiday season, returned to the loving hands of a nursery the rest of the year, and then making a return trip to your living room for subsequent years. Yes, some families even name their trees — Bruce the Spruce? Jennifir? Options abound.

Some rental plans may not include the return of the same tree, so ask before you sign.

For sure, many Americans love the tree as perennial holiday tradition. More than 95 million U.S. households deck the halls with a Christmas tree, according to the American Christmas Tree Association. About 80% of those homes opt for faux firs, which leaves about 17 million trees sold live domestically.

“ With proper care, a rented tree it goes back to the farm, where it provides its own cabon-capturing service and offers safe habitats for wildlife. ”

Smarter alternatives?

If rentals just aren’t an option in your area or are proving too expensive yet you still want a “greener” option, the tree and plant experts at Garden Mentors have some tips for a less-wasteful and still joyous experience.

Opt for potted and sheared rosemary shrubs.

Purchased cut trees and mulch them into the garden after the holidays.

Buy a big, live conifer to replant after you enjoy it indoors. Just make sure you research its care needs and growing capacity.

Shop for a dwarf conifer to decorate and later plant into smaller spaces.

Decorate houseplants with lights. Indoor potted citrus trees are great for this.

Live on a large property? Dig up a volunteer tree that popped up in the “wrong” spot and enjoy it as your DIY Christmas tree. After the holidays, help it adjust to going back outdoors. And plant it in a better spot.

Ultimately, how you dispose of a real tree is actually more significant than where it comes from or how you got it home.

If the tree ends up in landfill after a single season the impact on the environment is much worse because of the methane released during decomposition.

Most local authorities now offer a collection service or several designated drop-off points for real trees which they then shred and use on gardens and parks. If that is not an option, some companies will come to your house and grind it into mulch for your own use.

Related: Fragrant mulch, compost starter or farm feed: Here’s where and how to recycle your Christmas tree

Editor’s noteThe Upcycler column aims to help you make more with less, save or earn extra money, expand your creative side and shrink your carbon footprint.

Upcycling and the Buy Nothing movement involve reusing objects for practical or aesthetic purposes, or prolonging their usefulness and diverting them from a landfill. Our column will explore the benefits of repairing or upgrading more of what we already own; tapping potentially life-changing free or deeply discounted goods and services; and traveling in less expensive, intrusive and consumptive ways. Have your own upcycling ideas or dilemmas? Reach out on Twitter @RachelKBeals or by email to

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