With December around the corner, local tree farmers are breaking out the saws and preparing for customers to branch out across the area looking for the perfect Christmas tree.
The Jaffa Shrine hosts a tree sale through the local Road Runners, the group that transports children to Shriners children's hospitals. Tree sales are to begin Dec. 1 and should run through Dec. 22.
Treasurer Robin Thompson, who has been part of the tree sale for six years, said the group goes through about 450 trees each year before selling out, typically by their last day.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Evelyn Bookhammer cuts down a Christmas tree to be sold earlier this month at J&B?Tree Farm in Alexandria.
Hours are tentatively between noon and 8 p.m. daily. He said trees are priced at $25 each and range in height from 6 to 13 feet.
"It's a great deal," he said.
The group sells three to four kinds of trees: Douglas fir, two kinds of spruce and occasionally Fraser fir.
"But it's been bad the last couple of years, because the deer love the Fraser firs, and we have so many deer that they eat them back to the trunk," Thompson said.
Pleasant Valley Christmas Tree Farm in Hyndman, open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday from mid-November to December, offers precut and choose-and-cut Christmas trees on its farm, along with other Christmas accessories like wreaths and mistletoe. The farm also has a Garrett County, Md., location.
Employee Pamela Hutzell said the farm goes through thousands of trees each year, depending on wholesale buyers, and that the season's peak is between the first and second weeks in December.
"Douglas fir, Canaan fir, concolor, white pine, blue spruce and Fraser are the main ones we sell," she said, noting that the Douglas fir popularity was down recently due to a blight about five years ago.
"[The blight] ruined a crop of Douglas, so we kind of lost our customers there for a while ... but we really have a wonderful crop of Douglas coming on now. They're big, beautiful trees with soft needles," Hutzell said.
Concolor and Canaan trees are most popular at the Hyndman location, where the trees range in price from $19.99 to upward of $100, depending on size.
Most of the other species, however, are a set price for any size, like the spruce trees which go for $24.99.
Lisa England, a six-year employee of JB Tree Farm in Alexandria, said JB's season begins the day after Thanksgiving and lasts until Dec. 23, since some customers want a "fresh" tree for the holidays.
The farm's shop is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday; however, the fields close at dusk.
Douglas fir is the most popular kind, but the farm keeps around 10 varieties: four kinds of fir and six non-fir types, including spruce and pine.
Owner Evelyn Bookhammer said Douglas is the most popular because the tree has a good color and retains needles well, with strong branches to hold up ornaments and a pleasant smell.
Prices vary, with pine or spruce trees costing $28.30 and firs priced at $33.02. She said most people buy trees between 6 and 8 feet, although they sell ones that are 14 feet and taller.
England said there are a lot of customers who come back year after year and bring their growing families, even if they live far away.
"One year, a customer said they traveled from Florida to get their tree and drove it back home," England said.
Hutzell said Pleasant Valley Christmas Tree Farm also sees people coming back every year, with few people opting to make the switch from live trees to artificial.
So, why buy a live tree? Artificial trees can be considered a long-term investment - lasting years compared with a live tree's weeks. But tree farmers say there is another long-term cost associated with purchasing an artificial tree, and that cost is environmental.
" If you get rid of your artificial tree it stays in the landfill for a hundred years or more. If you get a real tree, it helps the environment. It breaks down, it helps the ground, it helps and feeds the animals," Hutzell said. "A real tree is good for the environment. ... It helps us breathe."
Ian Marshall, professor of English and environmental studies at Penn State Altoona, said he believes strongly in purchasing a live tree.
"As someone who is interested in conservation, I certainly have no objection to Christmas trees. It's not like people are taking them out of the forest - this is land dedicated to growing trees, and that's probably a good thing," Marshall said. "Timber as opposed to other things, like fossil fuels, is a renewable resource."
He also said that recycling the tree helps in the conservation effort, and that putting the tree in one's backyard is the best thing a person can do. There, it will provide habitat for animals like birds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians, and the decomposing tree will put nutrients back into the soil.
If someone is indecisive about whether to purchase a live tree, Thompson said ones needs to only follow his or her nose.
"Artificial ones have the odor of plastic. The live trees have a nice piney smell - ours especially," she said.