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I rent out living Christmas trees to replant after the holidays. It’s busy but fulfilling work.

Founder Scott Martin and his dog Kota Claus.

The Living Christmas Company

  • Scott Martin is a landscape architect and the founder of The Living Christmas Company. 
  • Martin and his team rent out living Christmas trees as an alternative to cut or artificial trees.
  • This is what his job is like, as told to writer Jenny Powers. 

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Scott Martin, a landscape architect and the founder of The Living Christmas Company. It has been edited for length and clarity.

When I was a teenager, a close friend and I took a job delivering Christmas trees during the holidays in California where we lived. We earned good money and made plenty of tips, and everyone was always happy to see us when we arrived, tree in hand. 

It was such a rush to pass by the houses we’d delivered to and spot the trees in the windows decorated so festively  

But then shortly after Christmas, we’d pass by those same homes only to find the trees laying outside on the curb, stripped bare of all their decor and tossed out next to the trash to be picked up and thrown away. 

It struck me as such a disconnect between the happiness on the front end of the tree experience and the disappointment on the back end of witnessing the very same trees that had brought joy to their owners now being discarded. 

I remember wondering why people didn’t put living trees in their homes instead of dead ones that they’d only throw out after the holidays, and the idea just stuck with me. Over time, I found out there were people who actually grew trees for this very purpose.

So in 2008, I took some of my savings and invested it in living trees, renting them out as potted Christmas trees, which made them reusable and plantable when they outgrew their pot

The Living Christmas Company Scott Martin Shark TankMartin’s 2012 “Shark Tank” appearance with Mark Cuban on the cover of TV Guide.

The Living Christmas Company

That first season I did a soft launch by renting out and delivering 100 Christmas trees locally in California. The following year, word of mouth spread and I put up a website. By the next season, I’d hired a marketing agency, and things just blew up from there. 

In 2012, I appeared on “Shark Tank” and walked out with a $150,000 investment from Mark Cuban in exchange for 40% equity in the company. To this day, we’re still partners.

We start delivering trees on the weekend after Thanksgiving. In the off season for the past 10 years, I’ve worked as a professional mediator and conflict coach for the nonprofit Mediators Beyond Borders International.

We rent out Christmas trees within 7 delivery zones in Southern California and offer 3 different types that range in price from $135 to $295

Monterey pine is our most popular tree because of its dark-green, soft needles that smell like Christmas. Aleppo pine is the easiest to care for and has the highest success rate of survival when planted after retirement. And blue spruce is closest to a traditional noble fir Christmas tree and has open, rigid branches that make it the easiest to decorate, though it’s not very fragrant. 

Our trees weigh between 150 and 250 pounds and come with a pot that sits atop a tray. The trees need to be watered every two to three days. We joke that if a tree is returned to us dead or dying, your penalty is that we put you on the naughty list. 

Something that surprises a lot of people is that a tree can actually go into shock and die when its location is changed

The Living Christmas Company Employee JB out delivering trees.JB, an employee of The Living Christmas Company, out delivering trees.

The Living Christmas Company

After all, it’s a living thing. We provide care instructions and encourage people to name their trees and water them regularly.  

Los Angeles tends to have a pretty transient population, and since a lot of people aren’t actually from here and tend to go home for the holidays, they don’t typically get trees. But since the pandemic, more and more people are staying home and getting trees.  

This season, we rented out 1,000 trees

Scott Martin The Living Christmas CompanyThe company starts delivering trees the weekend after Thanksgiving.

The Living Christmas Company

Some trees come back to us and can be kept a second year in the same pot, while the larger ones need to be repotted.

Any trees that return to us a little funky get donated to what I like to refer to as the “island of misfit trees” and are planted in the ground right away. Every season, we post our misfits on Craigslist and people can claim them as their own after the holidays. While they may not make good standalone trees, they’re great in groupings for wind or erosion control. 

Our customers are all ecologically-minded individuals that run the gamut from first-timers to diehards who’ve been renting from us for 10 to 12 years and raise their children only knowing live Christmas trees. 

We have a delivery crew of 20 to 30 people, along with four ‘elves’ who handle customer service

Crew members of The Living Christmas Company enjoying some holiday treats. Scott MartinCrew members of The Living Christmas Company enjoying some holiday treats.

The Living Christmas Company

Each year, we partner with a local nonprofit and hire some of their members to work for us as well. By doing this, we’ve been able to employ veterans, the formerly incarcerated, and the homeless. 

This holiday season, we’ve teamed up with the Adult Transition Program, which is part of the Long Beach Unified School District, to offer special-needs individuals between the ages of 18 and 24 who have aged out of foster care transitional work opportunities with us. 

As for me, my Christmas tree is a 3-foot-tall, funky bonsai I’ve had for years

Some years, I get a chance to string lights on it and dress it up. Other years, I’m too busy with work to do it.

Whether or not my tree gets decorated is a strong indicator of how busy we are at the nursery. This year, my tree was still bare four days before Christmas, if that tells you anything. 

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