For many in the Cranberry area, a natural Christmas tree only way to go

| Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 9:01 p.m.

Whether they enjoy decorating it, opening presents under it or simply looking at it, chances are, most Christmas revelers are going to have one.

And for those who prefer real trees for the holiday season, there are a lot of choices to be made.

Christmas trees can be trendy, according to Jack Grupp, owner of Grupp's Christmas Trees, located off of Route 19 in Harmony.

With a saw and a hopefully steady hand, fresh-needle lovers can hike the farm to choose and cut their own tree.

“The fir seems to be gaining attention and is more popular now,” said Grupp, who said they officially start selling their trees the day after Thanksgiving.

He said firs have a nice scent and hold their needles longer, and have replaced former popular picks such as the Scotch pine and blue spruce. Now people are choosing from the fir family, such as the Douglas, Canaan, and Fraser, said Grupp, who started the business in 1982 with his wife, Nancy.

Regardless of what is bought, what is more important is how it's handled, said Allan Dambach, of Lake Forest Gardens, a family-run wholesale and retail nursery on 737 Chapel Drive in Fombell.

“A tree should last three weeks,” said Dambach, who recently passed the ownership reins to his son, Kevin.

He said if a cut tree is not immediately set up in a home, it should be left bailed, tied up,and shaded with the trunk in the ground. But if it is set up early in the season, Dambach, said to check that it's not near a heat source and is watered adequately.

And people should not grab it by the very top, but by the trunk, he said.

Grupp noted that a fresh cut to the trunk should also be made before setting it up.

While a standard tree size is about 7 or 8 feet, people are recently choosing taller trees because of new styles in homes, Grupp said.

“There is a huge trend going with the big trees with the newer homes and higher ceilings,” he said.

Either way, it's imperative to have a sturdy tree stand.

“The one thing you don't want to have is the tree fall down,” Grupp said.

As far as when to go shopping, the weekends might be the busiest time to get a tree, but Donald Dambaugh, owner of Pine Hill Farms on 525 Upper Harmony Road in Evans City, tries to make the experience pleasant for all his evergreen pickers.

“It doesn't make any difference (when you come). We try and take care of everybody,” said Dambaugh, who runs his choose-and-cut farm on Fridays, from noon to dusk, and Saturdays and Sundays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“We put (in) a lot of tender loving care,” said Dambaugh, 65, who inherited the business from his late father.

And for those looking for a budget-friendly option, Dambaugh said to choose the imperfect Scotch Pine.

However, Grupp said it's not always about the price or the work for some.

“It can be a tradition and something for the family to do,” he said.

His farm offers a selection of Scotch Pine, White Pine, Blue Spruce, Douglas Fir, Canaan Fir and Concolor Fir, as well as a large selection of pre-cut Fraser Fir trees.

Overall, Dambach said they don't sell trees like they used to as a lot of people are going for the artificial route.

He should also know as he's been doing it all of his life since his dad started the farm in 1939. Even when he was away for four years in the Air Force and also four years away in college, he'd managed to make it home to help out the family business.

“We don't sell the numbers that we used to,” said Dambach, who said it takes time to drive to a tree farm, find one, cut it and drive home.

“Why do you think there's a line at McDonald's?”

But he said it's the experience that matters, as long as you are prepared for the weather. Regardless, they usually sell about 400 trees on a weekend day. They will be selling trees from now until noon on Dec. 24, he said.

In the field, Lake Forest Gardens features Spruce, Douglas and Cannan firs to be self-cut. Or people can choose one from their pre-cut selection.

Dambach said he also sells to those who operate small Christmas tree lots commonly found along the side of the road or in parking lots.

He said if these small operators are buying wholesale from him, he gives them a “Christmas Tree 101” to ensure they know how to handle and care for their trees before selling them.

Dambach said selling the trees is not an easy job, but it's worth it, at least for his family.

“Tree business has been good to us. It's hard work but we enjoy it,” said Dambach.

Natalie Beneviat is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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