Loyd R. Johnson thought it was a shame that perfectly good Christmas trees ended up as compost after the holidays.
“I kind of wondered for years if there was an alternative to buying dead trees,” he said, referring to the cut trees commonly sold. “If people were willing to spend $20 to $25 for a dead tree, would they be willing to spend the same to have it living?”
Thus was born Johnson’s Christmas-tree rental service, which in this, his first year, leased 1,200 live trees throughout the San Diego area.
Johnson said he made no profit this year because he had to buy each tree he rented. But next year, already owning many of the trees he needs, he expects his expenses will be far lower and hopes to begin making a good profit.
Customers placed orders by phone and Johnson delivered the trees rooted in planters. He will pick them up after the holidays so he can care for them next year at his five-acre spread in this rustic community east of San Diego.
By next Christmas, the trees should be about a foot taller, making them more attractive to people who have homes with high ceilings as well as for office buildings, he said.
“I lost a lot of business in La Jolla because the trees weren’t big enough for the high ceilings in the houses,” he said.
Once the trees get too big to move, Johnson said he will donate them to organizations such as the Boy and Girl Scouts.
Johnson said that if his idea catches on, cut Christmas trees may be obsolete in three to five years.
Some of his customers already have said they want the same trees next year.
Renee Augustine of La Mesa said that although the tree she rented is not as tall as those she usually gets, she is pleased with the idea that she can get the same tree a foot taller next year.
Augustine, originally from Ohio, also likes having a Christmas tree that is not chopped down. Live trees also drop fewer needles than cut trees.
“Every day I go by the tree at work and I say, ‘That tree looks so dry,’ and it is so brittle and mine is nice and fresh,” Augustine said.
Although Johnson, 49, had thought about opening a tree rental business for years, his firm was born of personal tragedy.
His wife, Jennifer Shawn Johnson, 28, died in October, 1988, in a car accident. The couple’s children, Mikayla, 7, and Philip, 6, survived.
“All of a sudden I found myself being Mr. Mom,” Johnson said.
Wanting to spend more time with his children than his job as a tile-setter would allow, he decided the time was right to start the business, called Living Trees of Alpine.
Response has been positive, Johnson said, adding that if all goes as planned he will rent about 5,000 trees next year. He also plans to offer more types of trees.
This year he carries Aleppo, Monterey and Italian stone pines, none of which are traditional Christmas trees. He hopes to offer Noble and Douglas firs next year.
Each renter is asked to sign an agreement promising not to put any chemicals on the tree and to remove any aluminum icicles before it is returned.
Rental prices range from $20 for a 2-to 3-foot tree to $32 for a 5-to 6-foot tree.
“All they have to do is water (them) and they can treat them like any other tree,” Johnson said. “All they have to do is dress it up.”