by Eileen Weber
With Thanksgiving under our belts, the Christmas season is upon us. It’s time to break out the lights and put up the decorations! For many of us, that can be a daunting task. (I had a friend who got so frustrated unraveling the Christmas lights that he left them in what he affectionately called “The Christmas Heap.”)
One Christmas tradition is taking an offbeat environmental turn. While many consumers opt for a natural Christmas tree rather than a petroleum-based artificial one, the hottest trend in holiday conifers is, well, borrowing one for a little while.
On the West Coast, the trend has been gaining popularity especially in metropolitan areas like Los Angeles. The idea is appealing to many people looking for an environmental alternative: Renting your Christmas tree and then replanting it after the last piece of tinsel has been taken down. No fuss. No muss. Just Christmas delivered right to your door.
Fed up with the post-Christmas tree debris, Scott Martin took the matter into his own hands. He founded The Living Christmas Tree Company in Redondo Beach, California to do just that. Martin, landscape architect by trade, will deliver a potted tree to be picked up and replanted after the season is over.
To his customers, Martin, self-named Scotty Claus, even offers the option of adopting a tree. You can watch your Christmas tree grow right along with your family.
Sounds ideal, right? There’s one teensy-weensy hitch in the whole plan. It only works in temperate climates and that’s mainly why it has been such a hit on the West Coast. Here in Connecticut however, a request for renting a Christmas tree will get you more than a little skepticism.
Gail Staehly, co-owner of Staehly Farm with her husband in East Haddam, raised an eyebrow. “Why would you want to do that?” she asked. “I don’t know anybody who’s asked for that!”
“You might as well take the next step and get an imaginary tree,” agreed Bill Hill, owner of Warrups Farm in Redding.
According to both Staehly and Hill, the pick-you-own harvest farm is the norm around these parts. Kathy Kogut, Executive Director of the Connecticut Christmas Tree Growers Association in Meriden, had a similar response. “I don’t see that trend at all in Connecticut.”
She said for a busier clientele, like corporations or people who work so much they just don’t have the time, renting a Christmas tree might be a more feasible option. But for Connecticut residents, the family experience of choosing and cutting down a tree together has a bigger draw.
“There’s a lot of interest in going to a farm,” she explained. “People tailgate. They get pictures with Santa. They have hot chocolate and cookies. Maybe even a sleigh ride.”
As environmental as renting a Christmas tree might be, there is a down side: It is also more expensive. In this shaky economy, consumers are still pinching pennies. So when a rented tree can cost anywhere from $80 to $125 while a pre-cut tree goes for as low as $40, you might want to think twice.
Kogut said that despite an increased demand in potted trees or ones that are balled and burlapped, most people don’t know how to properly care for it once they bring it home. “People get the balled tree because they want to plant it in their yard and keep it forever,” she said. “But you just can’t put the tree in your house in a warm environment for three weeks and then put it outside.”
Proper care of a balled tree is necessary. It can be inside for the week of Christmas, but it should go outside on a covered porch or in your garage shortly afterward. “If the live tree sits inside your house for more than a week, it starts to think it’s spring,” said Scott Edwards of Maple Row Farm in Easton. “You can’t put a tree outside in the cold once it starts to grow.”
Edwards went on to say the chance of survival for a potted tree is pretty slim. Susan Case from Sweet Wind Farm in East Hartland agreed. She said that exposing a tree’s root system to the cold was much too risky. “You’re shocking it’s system,” she said of replanting a potted tree. “It doesn’t always work out like people think.”
Edwards pointed out that your best bet is to get a tree from a pick-your-own farm. He said it is actually a more environmentally friendly method. Plus, you are supporting the farm at the same time you support the open space.
“You’re providing space for another tree. For every tree cut, we replace it with another tree,” he said. “The trees are then chipped up and used for mulch. It doesn’t sit around forever.”
According to statistics provided by the National Christmas Tree Association, most consumers want the convenience of pre-cut. Of all the trees purchased last year, seventy-eight percent were pre-cut as opposed to 22% from cut-your-own operations. But of those people who chose the pre-cut trees, thirty-two percent sought out a harvest farm than the 20% who took a U-turn at a neighborhood chain store.
An even smaller percentage of people purchased an artificial Christmas tree. Most consumers are aware that these trees are made from petroleum-based materials and present an environmental hazard when discarded into a landfill. While a fake tree might fit a certain need for some, most residents in the area are looking for that farm experience.
So this holiday season, pack up the kids and head off to any one of the farms listed below:
Bob’s Tree Farm
66 Turkey Plain Road, Rt. 53
Staib Tree Farm
49 Walnut Hill Road
Caesar's Nursery & Christmas Tree Farm
883 Federal Road, Rt. 7
278 Town Street
Everett’s Corner Tree Farm
136 Sherwood Road
Maple Row Tree Farm
538 North Park Avenue
Sweet Wind Farm
339 South Road
Paproski's Tree Farm
5 Hattertown Road
Fairview Tree Farm
486 Walnut Tree Hill Road
Jones Family Farms
266 Israel Hill Road
Wells Hollow Farm (Sell living Christmas trees)
656 Bridgeport Ave
Audubon Society H. Smith Richardson Tree Farm
Sasco Creek Road
Images courtesy of Maple Row Farm.