For years, Pat de Garmo's Christmas tree was her aging yucca plant. She doesn't like the idea of killing trees, and the size of her yard prevents her from getting a potted one...

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PORTLAND — For years, Pat de Garmo’s Christmas tree was her aging yucca plant.

She doesn’t like the idea of killing trees, and the size of her yard prevents her from getting a potted one. So year after year she strung lights and ornaments on the stiff branches of her indoor yucca.

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For environmentally conscious consumers like de Garmo, a venture that rents out living Christmas trees is filling a void.

The Original Living Christmas Tree Co., founded by John Fogel, has rented out 419 trees this holiday season, starting at $55 for a 7-foot Douglas fir.

The trees are taken out of the ground, roots and all, put into pots, and delivered to families in the Portland area. After the holidays, Fogel and his crew pick up the trees and deliver them to parks, school districts and other groups that pay around $10 to have the trees planted on their property.

“It seems like to cut a tree and put it in your house, and have it dry out and then just toss it away, is such a shame. This way, I know it will be replanted — no guilt,” said de Garmo, a retired nurse.

Officials at the National Christmas Tree Association say they know of no such other rent-a-tree businesses in the United States.

Fogel says the seed was planted by his father decades ago when he read to him a fable about a lonely tree in the forest that longed to be decorated by a loving family. The company opened in 1992.

“My market happens to be people that feel guilty about cutting trees,” Fogel said. “But this also happens to be a convenient alternative.”

And that is what makes his venture unique, said Bruce Judson, an expert on small businesses at the Yale School of Management, who points out that the $791 million Christmas tree industry has been reeling from the growing popularity of synthetic trees.

In 1990, 35.4 million households put up real trees and 36.3 million displayed artificial ones, according to a survey by the National Christmas Tree Association. A decade later, the split was 32 million live and 50.6 million artificial.

A venture like Fogel’s, said Judson, “gives you the convenience of a plastic tree with the aesthetics and environmental values of a live tree.”