Area Christmas tree growers expect another banner year this holiday season.
"More and more families are visiting tree farms to choose their trees," said spokeswoman Stacy Zimmerman of the Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Growers Association.
Pennsylvania ranks second in the nation in the number of Christmas tree farms and fourth in the number of Christmas trees cut each year and acres in production. Pennsylvania is home to more than 1,200 farms covering nearly 35,000 acres that produce almost 1.2 million cut trees each year.
Mirror photos by Gary M. Baranec
Josh Hood of Altoona (right) gets help securing his Christmas tree to the roof of his car from Greg Potter at JB Tree Farm in Alexandria on Tuesday. Many local tree farms reported a good tree season this year.
In Pennsylvania, Christmas tree farms have about $13.9 million in sales annually, Zimmerman said.
It has been a very good year for Christmas tree production, said Ricky M. Bates, associate professor of horticulture in the Department of Plant Science at Penn State.
"The moist spring helped with getting new plantings established and with early growth, and although it got dry by the end of summer, we did get enough rain to keep the established trees in good shape. This fall, the frosts/freezes came in plenty of time to ensure good needle retention," Bates said. "There does not appear to be any shortage of trees this year, based upon my conversations with growers and wholesalers, and prices also appear to be stable, so there likely won't be any large jump in retail prices."
Area growers have a good supply of trees ready, and their prices remain the same as last year.
"The crop this year is looking good. We had a good amount of rain this summer without a drought," said Evelyn Bookhammer, co-owner of JB Tree Farm near Alexandria. "There was a late frost, but the trees are resilient. They end up growing later in the season; they usually have a growth spurt. The Douglas firs are affected, but they regrow by this time of the year. You can't even tell there was a problem. It just makes it a little harder to do the shearing."
Pleasant Valley Tree Farm near Hyndman and Tuckaway Tree Farm, McAlevy's Fort, also have a good crop of trees.
"The crop is better this year because of all the rain we had. We expect a good season. We had some damage from frost in the spring, but not a great amount," said Pamela Hutzell, a Pleasant Valley employee for 17 years.
"We have a nice crop of trees this year. I would describe it as a shortage in some varieties of trees and a good supply of other varieties of trees. There is a shortage of Fraser and concolor firs, and we are long on Douglas firs. That is the trend across the state," said Tuckaway co-owner Chris Kiratzis. "We had a frost in late May. Some of our trees were badly damaged and became unsellable."
Fraser firs are among the top sellers of the area tree farms.
"Fraser and Canaan firs are the most that we sell. They are more sturdy to hold the ornaments and are a very beautiful tree with a very good fragrance," Hutzell said. "We also sell a lot of Douglas fir and white pine, as well. All of these have soft needles; the ones which have prickly needles are spruce and scotch. We don't sell scotch any more. A fungus went through several years ago, and we lost most of the scotch."
"Douglas fir is the hottest seller here. It holds its needles longer. It is a soft needle tree. It is a very natural-looking tree, which allows for the ornaments, and it smells great," Bookhammer said. "We also have more Fraser, intermediate and Canaan than in other years. We also sell concolor, and we have some people who want spruce and white pine."
Douglas fir is still a top seller at Tuckaway Tree Farm.
"We sell a lot of Douglas firs, but not like in the old days. We used to sell 5,000 to 6,000 of them a year but are now down to 3,000. But they remain a big part of our sales," Kiratzis said.