Looking to rent a real Christmas tree this year? It's becoming an increasingly popular choice for those looking to have a sustainable Christmas and reduce their festive waste (which should, of course, be all of us). Craig Tennock from Cotswold Fir – who devised a sustainable rent-a-Christmas-tree scheme on his land in Cheltenham – says he has seen the tree rental market increase 30% year-on-year.
This is Country Living's ultimate guide to renting a Christmas tree in 2021, including how tree rental works, the environmental benefits, how to choose the right tree for you and thoughts from tree rental converts...
What are the benefits of renting a Christmas tree?
If you rent a real Christmas tree as opposed to buying one, it has many planet-friendly benefits, including:
You get to enjoy a healthy, real Christmas tree but don't have to worry about what to do with it afterwards.
There is zero tree waste because the tree does not die in the new year.
In between Christmases, rented trees can be re-planted and cared for by the supplier, ready to use again next year.
The trees provide habitats for wildlife in between festivities.
The trees continue to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in between festivities.
The trees are pot-grown and so need less fertiliser because the amount can be more targeted.
You are supporting a local business.
You know exactly where the tree has been grown so can guarantee its carbon footprint and travel footprint.
How does renting a Christmas tree work?
A great example of a Christmas tree rental service is Craig Tennock's 'Rental Claus' scheme at Cotswold Fir. “Lots of people take the same one home every December – they even name them!” he says. "They shoot up at about a foot a year, meaning families can pick one to literally grow with their children. We like to call them trees for life.”
The first step to an environmentally-friendly spruce is to buy a local tree. Between 60 and 80% of trees in our homes are grown in Britain, many in Scotland, where they benefit from the colder weather. The closer the tree has been grown to both where it’s bought and where the customer lives, the better, limiting both its carbon footprint and theirs.
Here's how renting a Christmas tree works...
Locate your nearest Christmas tree rental service. You should always rent a Christmas tree from a grower local to you so that travel doesn't counteract the environmental benefits. We've popped a list of suppliers below to help.
Choose your tree from various size options.
Pay a deposit (it's £15 at Cotswold Fir but prices may vary between growers) plus the cost of the tree. This ranges from £25 for a three-foot tree to £40 for a six-foot tree.
Collect your tree or have it delivered (depending on area).
Abide by the care rules whilst it is in your possession. This includes watering it every day, keeping it away from heat sources and only having it inside for three and a half weeks.
Stay on the eco theme by decorating it with plastic- and glitter-free decorations – and surround it with presents wrapped in recyclable eco wrapping paper.
Return the tree after Christmas and get your deposit back if all is well with it.
The tree is cared for and continues to grow and thrive throughout the year.
Cotswold Fir grows its trees on Paul’s 35-acre site at Primrose Vale, near Cheltenham, and many are sold just yards away. “Transport is a big issue,” Craig says. “We don’t want to sell our trees too far away, as this will counter the environmental benefits.” The company does have outlets at a farm shop in Worcester (20 miles away) and a bike shop in Bristol (40 miles away), but Craig is reluctant to expand: “We won’t grow many more trees. I’d like to keep emissions low.” The bike shop in Bristol does deliver, but only locally – it puts them on the back of a two-wheeler. “They might need electric bikes in some cases, as Bristol is pretty hilly,” Craig says.
Renting a pot-grown Christmas tree has other advantages for the environment, too – it is less resource-intensive than growing them on land because the grower can give each pot the right amount of fertiliser. Conventional farming often uses heavy machinery to spray across a large area: “If you have 20 acres of trees, all that land gets sprayed, whereas we’ll put a minimal amount straight into the pot, just for that tree.” Minimal pesticides are also used, although some are needed to protect the trees from aphids.
Craig and his team care for the trees throughout the year, making sure they are at their best for Christmas. Just as families look forward to having their tree home, Craig looks forward to their return. “In the New Year, the trees come back to us looking just as happy as the day they left us,” he says. “Instead of being discarded, they have years ahead of them.” At Cotswold Fir, one message is clear – a tree is for life, not just for Christmas.
Where to rent a Christmas tree from in the UK
Ask your local Christmas tree farm for advice and do some research in your local area
Cotswold Fir – Gloucestershire
Love A Christmas Tree – Kirkby Mallory, Leicestershire
London Christmas Tree rental – London
Rental Christmas Tree – Stroud
Christmas on the Hill – Muswell Hill, Hampstead, Stoke Newington, London
Festive Tree Hire – Reading, Berkshire and Surrey
What about Christmas tree shortages in 2021?
Headlines have suggested that the UK could face a Christmas tree shortage this year due to ongoing disruption in the supply chain, caused by a lack of HGV drivers and Brexit.
This, of course, is unlikely to affect the Christmas tree rental market as rental trees are grown and supplied locally and do not rely on lorry drivers or a complex supply chain. The tree simply goes from the grower to the renter and back again.
However, a potential Christmas tree shortage for suppliers who rely on trees to be transported to their shops – like some garden centres – may cause a spike in customers looking for other ways to source a festive tree this year. It could mean that more people look to rent a tree, buy a fake one or explore an alternative eco-friendly Christmas tree, like a wooden one or a different tree species.
How to look after a rented Christmas Tree
So that the tree can continue to thrive after Christmas, it is essential that the renter take good care of it whilst it is in their care. This includes:
Water it daily – The British Christmas Tree Growers Association recommend a litre a day.
Temperature – Keep your tree at the right temperature and not in a spot that is very hot or very cold, avoiding radiators at all costs. It is recommended to keep the tree in the shed or garage for a couple of days between the tree farm and taking it indoors so that it can acclimatise and not be shocked by the sudden temperature change.
Don't prune – As the tree is rented, not owned, you should not trim it. Leave the shaping to the growers and make sure you choose a tree that is the right size and shape for your space.
Three weeks – Cotswold Fir advise on only having the tree indoors for three and half weeks so it's important to time your collection alongside your dates of celebration.
How to choose the right Christmas tree for you
Marina Martignoni, Woodland Officer from the Forestry Commission, shares her tips on choosing the best tree for your space and family whilst being as sustainable as possible.
1. Make sure you chose the right tree for your family and space
For trees grown in Britain, the Forestry Commission recommend the Norway spruce, Nordmann fir and Lodgepole pine. If you appreciate the traditional look and smell of Christmas then the Norway spruce is for you. If you have young children the soft, big needles of the Lodgepole pine make it a great choice. And for keeping needles off the carpet, you can’t beat the Nordmann fir. Its soft foliage and even shape with extra strong branches make it a real joy to decorate.
2. If you choose not to rent, buy sustainably
Trees, woods and forests are vital for locking up carbon to tackle the climate emergency. Buying your real Christmas tree from Forestry England helps to look after the nation’s forests. Forestry England is opening Christmas tree sales centres across the country, offering high-quality real Christmas trees from the heart of the forest. All trees are grown in the UK and certified by Grown in Britain, and all Norway spruce trees are certified by both Grown in Britain and the Forest Stewardship Council. You can choose Grown in Britain certified trees from other retailers too.
3. If your tree can't be returned, recycle it properly
If you don’t have a potted tree that you can reuse or you can't return your rented tree, then make sure you recycle your tree responsibly. Visit your local authority website or Recycle Now to find out how to recycle your tree. Many local authorities offer a drop-off or curbside tree recycling service, so your tree can be put to good use by being chipped and used locally.
"Why I rent a Christmas tree every year..."
Abi Freshwater lives in Stroud, Gloucestershire, with her husband, John, and their 15-year-old son, Reuben. For the past six years, they have welcomed the same Norway spruce into their home. “I used to dread seeing our street full of discarded Christmas trees in January,” she says. “It can’t be good for the environment to waste them and keep growing more, yet I felt uneasy about buying an artificial one because it could be made of plastic. When I discovered we could rent a fresh tree, it seemed like the perfect solution.”
The Freshwater family have named their tree Florence. “She is part of the family,” Abi says. “We get really excited before she arrives, wondering how much she’s grown and flourished. She has filled out from her younger years and now has a very womanly figure! One day, when she gets too big for the house, I’ve told my husband that we will need to move. Florence is part of Christmas – she’s our little bit of magic.”
How Cotswold Fir's Christmas tree rental started...
Originally from British Columbia, Canada, Craig began visiting Nailsworth in Gloucestershire back in 2000 and eventually moved there. His background was in mergers and acquisitions, and he had no experience of growing trees. But he had a passion for the environment and would often come up with business ideas. In 2010, he wanted to buy his own Christmas tree, but found them so expensive: “They were about £50, double what I paid in Canada, and I wondered if there was a cheaper, more sustainable alternative.”
After meeting his now-business partner Paul Keene, owner of popular farm shop Primrose Vale, the pair came up with the idea of growing Christmas trees in pots. This would reduce transport costs, lower the amount of pesticides the grower would need (as they could target individual pots), and give the land a break by not having to farm it so intensively for a constant supply of spruce.
The original idea was for customers to keep their trees until the following Christmas, caring for them at home. But in the new year, they found customers returning them. “They were scared they’d kill them and wanted us to look after them,” Craig says. The pair hit upon the idea of renting out the trees – and the business, as it is now, was born. “As a joke, we called it Rental Claus.”
The pair now rent out about thousands of trees a year. “Every year, since 2012, we’ve sold out,” Craig says, “and demand keeps growing.” Their potted trees last for around 12 years –after that, they’re better off in the ground. “They get old and cranky after a while. Returning customers are often reluctant to give up their trees, but they can always plant them in the garden. In 40 years, they will end up with quite a big tree.”
Norway spruce and Nordmann fir trees are available among other species. Norway spruce, says Craig, tend to be the favourite because people say they smell like Christmas – they’re also more suited to pots. “Nordmann fir don’t like pots as much because they have bigger roots. Once they’re over three feet, they prefer to be in the ground,” he adds.
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