CARSON, Calif. — Scott Martin surveys his Christmas trees, inspecting their needles row by row for signs of stress.

The trees in his Los Angeles-area nursery differ from those in a typical Christmas tree lot: These are potted living trees, and they’re for rent, not for sale. But all share a thirst that has been difficult to quench as California fights its way through a third year of drought.

This season, customers of Martin’s Living Christmas Co. won’t be seeing as much of the classic Christmas pine, which requires more water than spruce varieties and is more likely to brown in the heat. Living Christmas cut more than 200 pine trees from its roster this season – a 40 percent reduction in its pine offerings since last year, Martin said.

The company’s drought-conscious move comes as Christmas tree growers struggle with the effects of the state’s lack of rain. This year is on track to be the hottest on record for California, with about 55 percent of the state under exceptional drought conditions, the most intense level on the drought scale.

“This is one of the driest years that I have seen after 50 years in this business,” said Larry Hyder, who runs Indian Rock Ranch, a Christmas tree farm near Sacramento.

This year was hard on baby trees and seedlings, Hyder said. His farm lost some of those young trees, but the larger, adult trees survived because their water supply comes from roots entwined deep in the ground.

The drought is tough on individual farms, but consumers will be spared most of the effects this year, said Rick Dungey, spokesman for the National Christmas Tree Association.

Although quality can be affected by lack of rain, shoppers shouldn’t worry too much because the trees available each holiday season are at least 6 years old, he said.

“It takes a number of years to get a marketable product,” Dungey said. “With too little rain you can get slow growth rates, but mature trees are hardy and durable.”

The number of Christmas tree growers has been shrinking for years for a variety of reasons. There are 385 Christmas tree farms in California, down from 400 in 2007, according to 2012 agricultural census data. Of those 385 farms, only 301 cut and sell trees.

Martin, a landscape architect known as “Scotty Claus” during the holiday season, founded Living Christmas in 2008. He rents live potted trees to households and businesses in Southern California and parts of the Bay Area. Customers can choose from multiple tree sizes and varieties, including cypress, cedar, spruce and pine. Rentals cost $30 to $255, plus delivery fees of $50 to $100.

Despite the drought, business is booming.

The business landed investor Mark Cuban’s support in 2012 when Martin pitched Living Christmas on the ABC show “Shark Tank.”

Since then, Living Christmas has expanded.

Though the drought hasn’t caused Living Christmas many problems, the unrelenting Southern California sun has done some damage. Some of the trees have started to brown on the edges from the heat.

Martin has other challenges. Lugging trees across Los Angeles and into neighboring Orange County and San Diego is labor intensive. And there is no guarantee of how next year’s crop will turn out.

Because the formula for the perfect Christmas tree differs from customer to customer, Martin is constantly catering to various tastes.

There’s even an area for misfit trees in his nursery, the site of a former Shell Oil refinery. The less-than-perfect trees, some with an odd lean or bald spot, are cheaper to rent – the most expensive costs $130.

Renters get the option to rent the same tree year after year, but sometimes nature has other ideas.

One short tree with its base exposed drew Martin’s attention on a recent morning. The planter had been removed; only a pile of soil remained, wrapped in fraying burlap. The white spruce dried out before it could be sent to the family who had requested it for the previous two years.

“Tiny Tim,” as the family had dubbed it, didn’t make it. But Martin is still optimistic about his other evergreens in the many Christmas seasons that lie ahead.