UXBRIDGE – While Christmas is still two months away, local Christmas tree growers are already busy gearing up for the start of the retail pick-and-cut season that officially begins the Friday after Thanksgiving.
At Arrowhead Acres in Uxbridge, owners David and Vicki Morin are reporting healthy trees for the 2013 cut-your-own Christmas tree season with Fraser and Concolor fir trees up to 8 feet tall.
“The trees are looking good this year,” says David Morin, who has been growing trees at the 92 Aldrich St. farm since 1988. “Our farm tends to be on the wet side anyway because of the nearby wetlands and if there were a drought like the one that impacted some growers in the Midwest last year it would only affect seedlings that have shallow root systems.”
Bigger trees, the ones ready for sale, have a root system that digs deep into the ground, and are able to reach more moisture, he says.
“We plant seedlings that are two-years-old and after eight to 10 years in the ground, they will be around eight feet tall and ready for harvesting,” Morin says.
The 800 or so White spruce trees at the 90-acre Petersen Farm in Glocester are also tall and healthy, says farm owner James Petersen.
As a Christmas tree, White spruce has excellent foliage color, short stiff needles and a good natural shape. Needle retention is better than some of other spruce species.
“It’s been a good year and we have lots of six- and seven-foot trees,” says Petersen, who’s been growing Christmas trees at the 451 Putnam Pike farm for 35 years.
At Petersen Farm, customers cut their own trees beginning the Friday after Thanksgiving. At that time, the farm will be open Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from noon to dusk and Saturdays and Sundays all day long.
At Arrowhead Acres, Morin now has over 30,000 trees growing on the farm, with approximately 2,000 ready to be marketed this year beginning the day after Thanksgiving.
“Most of the Concolor firs are a bit on the small side, but the fraser firs are looking real good,” he says.
The Fraser fir branches turn slightly upward. They have good form and needle-retention. They are dark blue-green in color and have a pleasant scent. Concolor firs have small, narrow needles around 1 to 1½ inches that occur in rows. They, too, have good foliage color, good needle retention, and a pleasing shape and aroma.
It’s been challenging over the past couple of years for wholesale tree growers who are facing declining sales and competition in the form of plastic trees made in China. A Harris poll conducted for the National Christmas Tree Association revealed a 20 percent drop in the numbers of live Christmas trees bought between 2011 and 2012. When Americans were asked if they displayed a tree during the holidays, 56 percent said they put up a fake tree, while only 17 percent said they bought a live one.
“That’s been hurting the wholesale guys more than it has the small retail choose-and-cut guys like us,” said Morin, adding there are still lots of people who not only prefer a fresh cut Christmas tree, but look forward each year to cutting it themselves as a family holiday tradition.
A live tree is dormant when cut. When the tree is placed into a warm house it comes out of dormancy and requires water. Fresh cut trees have good needle retention and are not a fire hazard - it is nearly impossible to make a fresh cut tree burn with a match. On the other hand, trees sold in the lots and stores are usually from Canada or northern New Hampshire and Maine and may have been cut late September to early November and are stored in huge piles while waiting for shipment. These trees will usually begin to drop their needles once brought indoors, as too much moisture has been lost during storage.
All fir trees replace their needles and will shed needles naturally. However a dry tree will shed many more needles at once.
Morin likes to tell the story of a fir that was cut at Arrowhead Acres and placed in his home on Nov. 12, 2011. On Nov. 19 of that year, Morin’s wife, Vicki, decorated the tree for the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. On January 20 – more than two months after it was cut – the tree was re-decorated for Valentine’s Day.
“This was an unscientific experiment and we don't recommend anyone do this at home,” says Morin. “Frankly, I was getting tired of looking at the tree by Easter, and it was getting quite dry having it indoors for almost five months.”
Morin says the moral of the story is that “no tree is fresher than the tree you watch being cut at a tree farm, and fresh trees properly cared for will hold their needles for months.”
“The secret is putting them in water immediately after they are cut and making sure they don't run out of water,” he said.
At Arrowhead Acres, families can either cut their own tree or have it cut for them.
Tree cutting, transportation out of the fields, shaking, drilling, and netting are all provided at no charge. Farm staff will place the tree in or on your vehicle, but insurance issue will not allow the farm to tie the tree down. The farm does provide step stools and baling twine at no charge.
“Customers do not need to touch the tree until it arrives at their vehicle or they can do it all, if desired,” says Morin.
As for tagging – Arrowhead Acres, Petersen Farm and just about every other Christmas tree farm – stopped that practice years ago. Tag season typically starts the first Saturday in October and runs until the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
Arrowhead use to allow pre-season Christmas tree tagging as an added service to its customers, but discontinued the practice in 2005 because "grinches" were removing the tags and leaving nothing but a freshly cut stump to greet the rightful owner of the tree upon their return during the height of the Christmas season.
“Every time it happened to a family it left me feeling worse than the family who lost their tree,” Morin said. “Regrettably, we decided to discontinue the practice of tree tagging here at Arrowhead Acres after all these years. We were one of the last tree farms in the state to continue tagging, but we, too, finally gave in.”
Arrowhead Acres will be open for trees the Friday after Thanksgiving
and every weekend until Christmas from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tree cutters must be in the fields by 3:30 p.m.