Few things are as sad as the sight of Christmas trees abandoned on the side of the road or stuffed into a bin come January – but times could be changing.
Christmas tree rental schemes are having a moment, allowing customers to enjoy a real tree in their home throughout December, before returning it to be reused the following year.
Paul Keene, joint owner of The Cotswold Fir Christmas Tree Shop, has been running the farm’s ‘Rental Claus’ service since 2011, but says interest in the scheme has skyrocketed this year.
“The whole environmental bug has caught everyone, from the plastic bags to recyclable coffee cups and straws,” he tells HuffPost UK. “People are thinking ‘what else can we do to reduce our waste?’ and it’s another thing that galls people, having a tree for the season and then having to get rid of it.”
So how does renting a tree actually work? Here’s everything you need to know.
Is buying a Christmas tree bad for the environment, then?
Traditional, cut Christmas trees don’t have a huge negative impact on the environment when grown by a local dealer, without the need for hefty transport. Most dealers will be replanting new trees whenever they sell the old ones and, as they grow, the trees will absorb carbon dioxide and other potentially harmful gases from the atmosphere while emitting oxygen.
However, the problem lies in the disposal of these trees. Recycling accessibility varies greatly across the country and not everyone will have the garden space to turn old trees into mulch (returning their goodness to the ground). Around seven million trees are thought to end up in landfill each year.
How do rental schemes work?
Keene’s business is one of a few around the country running rental schemes and most operate on the same key principles. Instead of a traditional cut tree, people take home a tree planted in a pot, with its roots fully intact.
Rental trees available at Cotswold Fir are between 3ft and 5ft, with prices ranging from £40 to £50 for the tree itself. Customers are also required to pay a £15 deposit on top, which is returned when they return the tree for reuse. Other schemes offer a price range of £20-40, with smaller trees on offer.
The team at Cotswold Fir predominately have Norway Spruce Christmas Trees in 35L pots to rent, available from the first week of December. “People think of the Norway Spruce as dropping its needles, but the reason they usually drop their needles is because they’re dead,” Keene explains. “Our trees are alive, so although it’s a real tree and needles do come off from time to time, it’s not a bare stick by the time you’ve finished.”
Rental schemes give families the option to have the same tree year on year, if they don’t have the garden space to store their own and want to avoid plastic-heavy artificial trees. Upon returning a healthy tree, families can “tag” it with their name, with the annual rental cost covering the farm’s staff caring for the tree all year. When the trees eventually get too big to survive in pots – after around seven years – Keene offers them up to local families to plant in their gardens.
How do you keep the rental trees alive?
If you’re renting a tree, it shouldn’t be kept in your home for longer than three and a half weeks, says Keene, depending on how hot your house is. Any longer than that, and the health of the tree can begin to suffer or it can start to outgrow its pot, meaning it’s harder to revive for reuse the next year. “If you want a tree on the 1st December and to take it down on the twelfth night, it’s probably not the right option for you,” he says.
Renters are provided with instructions on how to keep the tree alive while it’s in their care, such as how much water to give it and where to place it in the house so that it’s away from direct heat sources.
Has Keene ever had a duff tree returned? “I think customers know when things haven’t gone right and invariably they won’t return the tree and they’ll lose their deposit,” he says. “We have had a couple of occasions when people have brought them back having cut off the top or something and obviously that’s no good to us because we can’t use them again.”
On the whole, the vast majority of trees come back looking well-loved though, because people “really believe” in the concept, he says.
Where can you rent a Christmas tree?
There are plenty of companies renting out enormous Christmas trees for corporate spaces in the UK, but there are fewer options suitable for your average home.
Cotswold Fir grows several thousand potted trees each year, which can be rented from its main site – Primrose Vale Farm Shop, Gloucestershire – as well as a number of smaller depots used by the company in Bristol, Stroud and Worcester. This Christmas, the company has teamed up with a site in London for the first time, where you can rent trees named Mr Kensington, Mill Fulham and more.
Delivery options are available if you live local to one of the sites. Keene warns that “demand has far outstripped supply” this year and trees at his depots are almost sold out.
An alternative to Cotswold Fir is tree rental company loveachristmastree.co.uk, which delivers to homes in Leicestershire, Warwickshire and south Nottingham. The farm, which grows 15,000 trees, still has Nordmann fir trees online to rent, the owners told HuffPost UK.
If you’re unable to get your hands on a rental tree but you have a garden, Forestry England recommends buying a potted tree rather than a cut one, which you can then keep outside and reuse for several years.
You can pick up a potted Christmas tree at the following Forestry England forests: Dalby Forest, Whinlatter Forest, Bedgebury Pinetum, Moors Valley Park Country Park & Forest, Queen Elizabeth Country Park, New Park, Wyre Forest, Cannock Chase Forest, Delamere Forest and Sherwood Pines.
Alternatively, ask your local garden centre if they’re selling potted trees – and encourage them to start a rental service next year.