Christmas tree sellers unwrap holiday rush

November 27, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Jason Hollaway, of Issaquah, a worker at Trinity Tree Farm on Squak Mountain, pulls a Christmas tree through a netting machine Nov. 24 for a family to transport home for the holidays. By Greg Farrar

The holiday rush is not limited to retailers. Once the calendar inches past Black Friday, another group of merchants girds for a deluge of customers — Christmas tree sellers.

The diagonal expanse from Maple Valley to North Bend along state Route 18 is a destination for Christmas conifer seekers. Christmas tree farms roll across the mountain foothills near Issaquah, a coniferous carpet ready for cutting and trimming. Seasonal lots offer holiday greenery in empty fields and parking lots in the days before Christmas.

Local growers said the hectic days between Thanksgiving and Christmas abound in old-fashioned cheer — and questions about how to select the ideal Christmas tree. Douglas fir or Noble fir? How about tall or short? Is the ideal Christmas tree skinny or stout?

But the question about fresh trees versus artificial trees is moot. Talk about artificial trees is off limits at Christmas trees farms and lots.

“It is the best time of year,” said Maria Ulrich at Enchanted Winds Tree Farm along Southeast Issaquah-Hobart Road near state Route 18. “It is truly a wonderful tradition for us. We see some people that have been coming out for over 20 years. I look forward to seeing the familiar faces and then meeting new people, too.”

Christmas tree farms and lots

Christmas tree lots and choose-and-cut farms abound in the Issaquah area. Consider the options below, or find a complete list at the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association website,

Trinity Tree Farm

Enchanted Winds Tree Farm

Newcastle Fruit & Produce

Pfaff’s Christmas Tree Farm

Issaquah Christian Church

Noel Trees Limited

Consumers trek to choose-and-cut farms for numerous reasons. Some aim to duplicate a childhood tradition and, under the influence of nostalgia, head out into the trees, handsaw at the ready. Others regard a fresh Christmas tree as a better choice for the environment than a fake alternative. Consumers interested in purchasing local products also gravitate to Christmas tree farms.

Rick Dungey, public relations manager for the National Christmas Tree Association, said reasons vary from consumer to consumer.

“I like the tradition. I like creating the memories. I enjoy the experience each year of picking out a special tree,” he said. “You just don’t get that when you pull a box of plastic down out of the attic.”

‘We know what real trees look like’

The lot outside Issaquah Christian Church serves a dual purpose. The old-time-style Christmas tree seller dispenses holiday greenery, but the church also raises money for humanitarian projects. The church uses proceeds from tree sales and a Fourth of July fireworks fundraiser to send relief missions to Mexico.

Families started to pour onto the Christmas tree farms and lots on Black Friday and in the days after Thanksgiving.

“In the Northwest, we’re a little different here in that we’re surrounded by trees and we know what real trees look like,” said Bryan Ostlund, Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association executive director. “The desire for real in the Northwest has always been a very strong, consumer-driven demand.”

The elegant Noble fir — a species native to the Cascades and covered in needlelike leaves — is popular among Pacific Northwest consumers.

“Here in the Northwest, Noble fir is absolutely a king,” Ostlund said. “They’re good performers. The needles hang in there. They’re fairly bulletproof.”

The regional association — based in Salem, Ore. — represents Christmas tree growers in Oregon and Washington.

The process to create a perfect Christmas tree starts long before consumers arrive at the farm. Christmas trees require several years to reach the desired height for holiday use, and the plants need frequent shearing to fit the distinctive triangle.

“Unlike a timber tree, where they want trees that grow real fast with fine branches, we want, basically, what they would discard,” Ostlund said. “We want trees that grow slow with heavy branches.”

Growers pour dollars into research on genetics to perfect Christmas trees’ color, structure and growth rate. The industry is always studying how long trees retain needles after harvest and how long a cut tree can thrive.

What to know

Using proper care, experts said a fresh Christmas tree can remain green and healthy throughout the holiday season. The growers at the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association offer tips:

  • Make a fresh cut of at least a half-inch on the trunk bottom to open up pores clogged by sap. If a fresh cut is not made, the tree cannot absorb water.
  • After the cut is made, put the tree in water as soon as possible. The longer the time between the fresh cut and the tree reaching water, the less ability the tree has to absorb water.
  • Rinse the tree stand’s water reservoir with a mixture of one capful of bleach and one cup of water before inserting the tree to reduce the growth of microorganisms.
  • Place the tree in a sturdy tree stand capable of holding at least one gallon of water after the tree has been placed inside, and then fill the water reservoir.
  • If the tree is not going into the house soon after purchase, store in a bucket of warm water on a cool porch or patio away from freezing temperatures, sun and wind.
  • A typical tree may consume between one quart and one gallon of water per day. If the water level drops below the cut end of the trunk, a seal forms and no more water can be absorbed by the tree unless another fresh cut is made.

Source: Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association

Christmas trees flourish in the Pacific Northwest, and some local farms produce as many as a half-dozen species. Sellers offer Douglas, Fraser, Grand, Noble, Nordmann and Turkish firs, plus blue and Norway spruces and, in some locations, white pine.

“You’re in an area where you can grow a lot of different species,” Dungey said. “Texas ain’t like that.”

Evergreen state of mind

Washington — nicknamed the Evergreen State, as if to leave no doubt — ranks among the top 10 among Christmas tree-producing states. Oregon is the top Christmas tree producer in the United States, and Washington ranked No. 6 in total trees harvested in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s most recent census.

Ostlund expects Oregon and Washington growers to harvest about 10 million Christmas trees throughout both states before the holiday season ends.

“We move a lot of trees out of the Northwest in a very, very short period of time,” he said.

Erik Pfaff, a grower at the family-run Pfaff’s Christmas Tree Farm off of state Route 18, said the abundance of species is a bonus for consumers.

“Each person has something different that they want,” he said. “Do you like chocolate, vanilla or strawberry? They’re all good, but each one has its own special flavor and sometimes you like one a little better.”

Glenn Dutro, proprietor at the 40-acre Trinity Tree Farm on Squak Mountain south of Issaquah, said the crowd includes all ages, from toddlers to seniors.

“It’s a hodgepodge of all sorts of people,” Dutro said, but a common thread runs through just about every transaction.

“They always ask you if you like the tree,” he added. “I always tell them, ‘Once you get all of your stuff on them, they all look good.’”

The connection between the consumer and the seller — and, often, the grower — is another draw for consumers.

“People who go out to a choose-and-cut farm to buy a Christmas tree, the tree is — I don’t want to say secondary — but it’s not the sole end purpose of going out there,” Dungey said. “The reason you go out to a farm is because you want a fun family day at the farm.”

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