Finding the right Christmas tree

By on December 6, 2017

Millions of families will visit Christmas tree farms, greenhouses, produce stands, big box stores and pop-up operations in the weeks before Christmas to purchase the perfect tree for their holiday season.

The first and second weekends in December are the busiest for those selling a variety of trees and evergreen decorations. And at around $10 a foot, a decent tree is not inexpensive and will decorate a families’ home for only about three weeks before being put out for trash or to be recycled into mulch.

If you want the Christmas tree farm experience, you’ll find it in Lancaster County; but if you think you’ll have dozens of choices, think again. Acreage is much too expensive here for farmers to wait eight to 10 years (that’s how long it takes) for a tree to mature, and then sell it for $70-$80.

There’s a long history of Christmas trees around here. Many early German immigrants used evergreen as part of their Christmas celebrations, and trees (a 1600s Lutheran tradition) date back to 1821 in this county.

Although a tree is a focal point in many homes, that is not the case for the Plain family community that feels decorations, especially a tree, are a distraction from the celebration of Christ’s birth.

Getting the best tree at the right height, shaped correctly with needless that will last the season, all wrapped in a holiday smell can take some serious shopping.

At some tree farms, owners let customers cut down a tree if they cut the trunk at ground level, which is difficult. If a stump is left, mowing the tree farm and re-planting becomes difficult. Many tree farms let customers identify or tag the tree, and they will cut it and bale it. Some farms recut the trunk base while others just scrape it to allow water to be sucked up into the tree while it is in its stand.

If you purchase a tree at a garden center or big box store, or even at a seasonal stand in a parking lot, it will be advertised as “fresh cut.” These trees use to be called “pre-cut,” but for marketing purposes “fresh cut” has a better ring to it. Retailers usually get only one shipment of trees. They arrive in late November to be on sale right after Thanksgiving. Even some local tree farms might ship in a few species that don’t thrive in the local soil.

A good source of information on Christmas trees is the Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Growers Association (http://www.christmastrees.org). A link on the website will show all the farms in the state by county.

There are not as many trees available this year as there have been in the past. During the recession of 2008, trees sales were way down, farms closed or started growing grapes or produce. Consequently, fewer seedlings were planted. These were the trees that matured this year. However, locally there appears to be plenty of selection. According to Tim Abbey of the Penn State Extension in York, there are 1,400 tree growers in the state with 31,000 acres planted with one million trees. He has not seen any shortages in Pennsylvania.

Here are a couple of favorite local options for securing the right tree for the season:

Frysville Farms

300 Frysville Road, Ephrata

Although Vince Fry has a ton of Christmas trees at his well-known Ephrata location, he has Poinsettia plants by the acre too that he sells both wholesale and retail.

A destination for spring flowers, Frysville also is very busy in the fall with mums and during the holiday season. Frysville sells Fraser Fir, Concolor, Douglas, White Pine and Blue Spruce trees. Many people like the citrus smelling Concolor, and Vince says some customers ask for the tree that smells like juice.

Vince has been in the family business for 30 years and his 86-year old dad, Morton, who got it all started, is still on site to keep an eye on the operation. Frysville also sells balled trees for those who want to replant their holiday tree rather than recycle it.

Elizabeth Farms

212 Hopeland Road, Brickerville

Elizabeth is one of the largest tree farms in Southeast Pennsylvania. They sell farm cut, fresh cut and balled trees. They grow a variety of species, and customers can have their trees cut right in the field. It’s become a local Christmas destination over the years, an “experience,” as owner Bill Copeland describes it. The farm has wagon rides, food trucks, a gift shop, petting zoo, and a large train display. Nearly 50,000 visitors are welcomed at the farm each holiday season. Copeland sells wholesale and retail and has been growing trees for 30 years.

The list of area tree sellers is long and also includes major players like Esbenshade Garden Center and Greenhouse, also in Brickerville. And pop-up operations can be found on many street corners, similar to Mother’s Day flower vendors. So, if you haven’t bought your tree yet, what are you waiting for?

Art Petrosemolo is a freelance feature writer and photographer who recently retired to this area from New Jersey. He welcomes reader feedback at artpetrosemolo@comcast.net.

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