News and Tribune

December 1, 2012

AS GREEN AS EVER: Live Christmas tree yield largely unaffected by drought

By MATT KOESTERS
matt.koesters@newsandtribune.com

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — John Martin knows a thing or two about Christmas trees.

For the last 44 years, Martin has operated the Christmas tree lot outside of the Kroger along 10th Street in Jeffersonville. When it comes to the holiday’s iconic decoration, he’s seen it all.

That’s why we’re happy to report that according to Martin, dry conditions during the summer in certain parts of the country had little effect on his supply. The drought has prompted many of Martin’s customers to put the question to him, but Martin claims his prices haven’t gone up in years.

“[Business] has been really great,” Martin said. “People have really responded.”

Martin’s white and Scotch pines hail from Michigan, where the growers tend to them with a steady drip irrigation system. The Fraser firs Martin sells hail from the Carolinas, which experienced above-average rainfall during the summer, not to mention some serious snow a few weeks ago.

“The trees have got plenty, plenty of moisture,” Martin, a semi-retired landscaper, said. “In fact, they’ll have more moisture this year than they’ve had in the past. I know a lot of people are scared of the drought ... but I feel the trees are in better shape this year.

“They’ve got great foliage on them. They’re as green as they can be. I think we’ve got the best-looking bunch of trees that we’ve had in years.”

Maybe’s its the quality of the trees. Maybe it’s another sign that the economy is on its way back. It could be that Thanksgiving came early this year. But the Wednesday before Thanksgiving was the biggest Martin’s business has ever seen, and it’s been steady since, Martin said.

Locally grown trees are in pretty good shape as well, according to Robin Ruckman with Bruce Real Tree Farm, located along Ekin Avenue in New Albany.

“They look pretty good this year,” Ruckman said.

But those are the mature plants, which have been growing for several years. Bruce Real Tree Farm grows its Scotch and white pine trees in Crawford County, which was along the edge of the area affected by drought.

“It was fairly hard on the younger, the new trees that were put in,” Ruckman said.



BUYING YOUR TREE

Those considering a natural Christmas tree purchase this year need to be aware of a few things, among them the seller of the trees, according to Martin.

“They need to know where they’re buying it,” Martin said. “Some of these lots have had trees since back in the 10th or 15th day of November. I know there’s lots in Kentucky that’s had trees on them forever. I know some grocery store chains and different stores have had these trees since the first or second week of November, and these trees were cut ungodly too [soon].”

Trees that have been out too long are likely to die and dry out before Christmas day, Martin said.

“That’s what gives the real Christmas tree a bad slap in the face, because they dry out, the needles fall off of them and they are a fire hazard when you get one that’s been cut for a month, month and a half,” Martin said. “That’s not the customer’s fault, that’s the guy that’s selling the trees.”

The key to keeping a fresh tree alive is a good base and plenty of water. A tree between 6 and 8 feet in height can consume up to a gallon of water per day, and trees that aren’t regularly watered are likely to seal at the bottom as the tree’s sap hardens, Martin said.



DIFFERENT STYLES

The Fraser fir is what most buyers are looking for when they come to his lot, Martin said.

“They’ve got the most scent, always a good straight trunk,” Martin said. “They’ll hold their foliage. They’re a premium tree. They’ve got a soft needle and they’re great to decorate.”

Martin also uses the trimmings from Frasers to make wreaths.

Looking for something more traditional? The white pine may be for you.

“We’ve been selling white pines since back in the early ’70s,” Martin said. “It was a really popular tree, and then the Frasers came along. The white pine, it’s sort of gone by the wayside, but we still sell a lot of them.”

Where the white pine’s needles are long and soft, that’s not true for the Black Hills spruce, which Martin calls a “sticky needle tree.”

“There’s just a time and a place for a spruce,” Martin said. “Certain people like them, and that’s why we sell so many.”

When Martin got his start in the Christmas tree business 44 years ago, his best seller was the Scotch pine.

“It’s the original Christmas tree,” Martin said. “... We still sell a few of them. Some of the older people, some people like them. But it’s probably the least amount of trees we sell.”