More people choosing traditional Christmas tree, growers say
Stacey and Wayne Oden of New Kensington ventured out in unseasonably warm weather and rain on Thursday to cut down their perfect Christmas tree.
“I usually walk all around and then go back to the first tree I found,” said Stacey Oden, while her husband made a fresh cut on the trunk of the tree they'd just bought at McKinney Christmas Tree Farm in Fawn.
Having a live tree at Christmas is something the couple started together.
“When my husband and I got married seven years ago, we wanted to start a new tradition,” Oden said.
Local nurseries and tree farms anticipate a banner weekend, which is typically the peak time for tree sales.
And they expect the weekend weather will get more people into the holiday spirit. Temperatures are expected to drop into the 30s, and snow is in the forecast.
“Sales have been pretty good,” said Shawn DesLauriers, owner of TLC Landscaping in Lower Burrell. “People are going back to the cut tree because of tradition. And when they pull that (artificial) tree out of the attic, it doesn't smell the same as a real evergreen.”
Some tree growers had record sales during the weekend after Thanksgiving, said Stacy Zimmerman, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Growers Association.
“More and more families are visiting tree farms to choose their trees because spending the day at a tree farm is a fairly inexpensive family activity and a wonderful tradition to start with those you love,” Zimmerman said.
Pennsylvania ranked second in the nation in the number of Christmas tree farms, and fourth in the number of Christmas trees cut each year and acres in production, according to the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture, the most recent survey of each state's agriculture industry.
Studies show that people younger than 30 prefer to buy real trees, rather than fake trees, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.
“Even people who don't buy trees any more, they still like the smell of the pine boughs, so they'll buy a couple of wreathes just to have that pine scent,” said John Sterosky, owner of Habe's Nursery in Gilpin.
The tree of choice has changed during the 40 years that Dan Bachman has owned Bachman's Greenhouse & Nursery in Harrison.
Blue spruce was popular when he was a kid when folks bought their tree just a few days before Christmas. Then Scotch pine was a top choice until it faded out due to disease about 10 years ago.
The Fraser fir became the go-to tree for an increasing number of families.
It's likely to remain the popular favorite because the trees retain needles the longest and aren't prickly. The firs also have a pleasant citrus scent.
“If you take care of a Fraser fir tree,” Bachman said, “you can have that tree maintain its softness and color until the end of January.”
He recommends ensuring the tree never runs out of water and mixing in a small amount of plant food.
Try to keep the tree away from heating vents, he advises.
“That will dry a tree out just like a clothes dryer dries out clothes,” Bachman said.
Bachman's gets trees from the Carolinas and Virginia, which have high altitudes needed to grow ideal Fraser firs.
Those trees are often cut as early as September when the sap is still up in the branches, which Bachman said helps the tree last longer.
Other farms tout that their trees are grown locally.
“Our trees aren't cut until Thanksgiving,” said Bill Ezatoff, of New Kensington, who gets his trees from Smicksburg. He is selling trees outside Kiski Plaza Garden & Feed Center in Allegheny Township. “They're fresher, so they last longer.”
Habe's Nursery, Ski Christmas Tree Farm, in Clinton; Camp Jo-Ann Nursery, in Washington Township; TLC and McKinney's all grow trees locally.
New to the business
A couple of new faces are selling Christmas trees this season.
Anthony Manifest and his 4-year-old son, Anthony, are selling trees outside Manifest's business, Four Brothers Supply, on Route 66 in Washington Township.
“I wanted to do something with my son and we saw something in the paper about Christmas trees,” Manifest said. “I asked him if he wanted to do that and he said, ‘Yeah, Dad, I'll do it!' ”
Young Anthony has even helped drag out a few trees, his dad said.
Tom Linderman set up a new stand on Fifth Avenue in Tarentum behind the Hometown Restaurant.
Thursday he was arranging trees for display and making wreathes and grave blankets so they'd be ready for weekend sales. Linderman said he got his trees from Fleming's Christmas Tree Farm in Indiana County.
“I just set up yesterday and I sold one tree already,” he said.
Linderman said he's hoping to draw in people who, like him, enjoy having a live tree.
Connie Rusek Lichok, of Springdale, a customer at McKinney's in Fawn, said buying pine wreathes as gifts and to decorate her home makes Christmas special.
“I love it because it gives my home a Christmas feeling,” she said. “It opens your heart and makes you smile.”
Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or firstname.lastname@example.org.