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Westmoreland

Wet weather doesn't dampen Christmas-tree season for Western Pa. sellers

Patrick Varine
| Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018, 1:33 a.m.

Brandon Wolfe is the third generation of his family to supply Christmas trees for Westmoreland County families.

“My grandfather started it,” Brandon said of Wolfe Nursery , which has been in Hempfield since 1947. “He used to sell trees over where Walgreens is at now, by Greengate Centre.”

Today, Brandon and his father, Don, operate the nursery, where they sell between 350 and 400 trees each holiday season.

Christmas tree sellers like Wolfe Nursery are open and ready for business this weekend. Pennsylvania remains No. 4 in the nation for Christmas tree production, with about 31,000 acres of tree farms and more than 1 million trees harvested yearly.

At the Jason Wilkinson Nursery in Armbrust, landscape designer Angela Kay Iezzi is gearing up to begin moving the roughly 600 trees the business will sell in the next month.

“For the most part, everything we carry during the regular season is put away if it hasn’t sold to make room for the Christmas trees,” Iezzi said. “We grow things like Norway and blue spruce at the nursery, and we have some Canaan and some concolor firs.”

And while the Fraser fir is far and away the most popular style, Wilkinson Nursery does not grow many.

“Fraser firs don’t always grow well in Pennsylvania,” Iezzi said.

Brandon Wolfe said the sturdy, heavily branched Frasers can be finicky.

“We have a 22-acre farm down the road where they grow great,” he said. “If you have a decent spot with good drainage, they seem to do well. If it stays too moist, they don’t like that much.”

With Pennsylvania posting one of its wettest years on record, Wolfe said he and his father were dealing with plenty of moisture issues.

“This year it was so wet we couldn’t get our tractor up the hillside to haul trees out,” he said. “Someone ordered an 18-foot tree, and we had to go up, cut it and drag it halfway down the hill.”

Shannon Powers, spokeswoman with the state Department of Agriculture, said overall the wet weather that caused other farmers to suffer this year hasn’t affected many Christmas tree farmers.

“Christmas trees tend to benefit from the wetter weather,” she said. “Harvesting can be complicated.”

In Indiana County, Fleming ’s Christmas Tree Farms , which does both retail and wholesale business, is gearing up to move more than 10,000 trees during the season.

Unfortunately for Westmoreland residents who make the annual trip to get a Fleming’s tree, its New Alexandria location will not be open this season.

Owner J.D. Fleming said it’s certainly not for lack of trees.

“It’s the supply of manpower to run the location,” Fleming said. “We need somewhere between 12 and 15 people to man it properly. We have to run tractors around the farm to pick up trees, we have people in the service area, we have people with saws to hand out or cut trees, and we have people manning the gift shop.”

Fleming’s will host a Trees for Troops event from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday , Dec. 1, at its farm, located at 1803 Fleming Road, Indiana, where families can donate a tree that will be shipped to soldiers at military bases throughout the United States.

“We’ve sent them to Oklahoma, Texas and all over,” Fleming said. “I think there’s about 60 different bases in the U.S. that receive trees.”

Iezzi said she loves watching families tromp through the snow to pick out the tree that will serve as the centerpiece of their holiday display.

“People who come in to buy trees are always in such a festive spirit,” she said.

Fleming agreed.

“I really enjoy talking to people and watching families have fun,” he said.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, pvarine@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.

Jason Wilkinson Nursery employee Tomas de la Sancha helps owner Jason Wilkinson (right) move a 14-foot Fraser fir for a family Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018 at Jason Wilkinson Nursery in Armbrust.
Jason Wilkinson Nursery employee Tomas de la Sancha helps owner Jason Wilkinson (right) move a 14-foot Fraser fir for a family Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018 at Jason Wilkinson Nursery in Armbrust.
Fraser fir trees line the lot ready to be placed on stands and sold Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018 at Jason Wilkinson Nursery in Armbrust.
Fraser fir trees line the lot ready to be placed on stands and sold Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018 at Jason Wilkinson Nursery in Armbrust.
Jason Wilkinson, owner of Jason Wilkinson Nursery in Armbrust, moves a 14-foot tree he cut for a family on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018 at Jason Wilkinson Nursery. Wilkinson is the third generation of tree grower in Hempfield Township, his grandfather began the business in 1932. Wilkinson says his business will sell just over 500 trees for the season, a much smaller number than previous decades.
Jason Wilkinson, owner of Jason Wilkinson Nursery in Armbrust, moves a 14-foot tree he cut for a family on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018 at Jason Wilkinson Nursery. Wilkinson is the third generation of tree grower in Hempfield Township, his grandfather began the business in 1932. Wilkinson says his business will sell just over 500 trees for the season, a much smaller number than previous decades.
An approximately 45 foot tall spruce is lowered onto a flatbed on Mile Lock Lane along the border of Brackenridge and Harrison on Friday, Nov. 23, 2018. The tree will be placed on the grounds at Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament for Harrison’s Christmas parade and festival on Saturday, Dec. 1.
Brian C. Rittmeyer | Tribune-Review
An approximately 45 foot tall spruce is lowered onto a flatbed on Mile Lock Lane along the border of Brackenridge and Harrison on Friday, Nov. 23, 2018. The tree will be placed on the grounds at Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament for Harrison’s Christmas parade and festival on Saturday, Dec. 1.
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