191201scl TreeFarm

Sarah Partyka, owner of The Farmer's Daughter in South Kingstown examines a fraser fir at the business's tree farm.

Like other Christmas traditions, finding a tree to proudly display in one’s home can take on several forms.

Some people opt to take the hassle-free route of purchasing an artificial tree.

The benefits are many. An artificial lasts for years. They don’t shed needles daily, and there’s no need to water them. The tree always looks fresh and newly-chopped.

Some people will put lights and decorations on the tree and after the holidays are over, just store it as-is, with a bag covering it until late next November or December.

Others want to get a fresh-cut tree, but don’t have the time to be picky, or just don’t care as long as it’s green and stands a reasonable chance of staying alive through Christmas. They’ll stop at a roadside tree lot, or one that pops up in a parking lot.

Then there are folks who want nothing but the real thing, fresh from the farm. They want to walk around and inspect the offerings, searching for the perfect tree. Once found, they get to watch it get cut down or, in some cases, take a saw to the trunk and do the cutting themselves.

That’s where local establishments like Bedrock Farm come in.

Tom and Angie Geary have been growing trees at their Wakefield farm since 1996, and selling since 2002. The farm has 13 acres of trees, more than 13,000 in the ground, and Tom Geary said he plants 1,200 to 1,500 annually.

“We’ve got as many trees as we need,” Geary said. “Spring was phenomenal for the trees, with all the rain.”

He starts selling the day after Thanksgiving and continues daily until Christmas.

“Black Friday weekend is crazy,” he said. “Most of the selling happens on weekends.”

Demand is expected to be high heading into Thanksgiving and beyond, and other growers in South County are ready too.

“We’re actually opening the weekend before Thanksgiving,” Sarah Partyka, of The Farmer’s Daughter farm on Route 138 in Wakefield, said.

This year, the calendar is working somewhat against sellers.

“There’s one less weekend than usual between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year,” Partyka said. Christmas falls on a Wednesday this year, meaning there will be four weekends from Black Friday until then. Last year, there were five.

Most of the farms sell a variety of firs – Fraser, Douglas, Canaan and Concolor, in the case of Bedrock  – as well as spruces and pines.

Geary said the Fraser fir is by far the most popular tree among buyers.

“It’s a really attractive tree, and nicely balanced. It’s got sturdy branches and soft needles so it’s kid-friendly,” he said. “It’s the Cadillac of trees.”

Most farms turn the Christmas tree outing into an experience.

In addition to tagging and cutting their tree, visitors can buy wreaths, garland and centerpieces, take a photo for their Christmas card, visit with Santa, go on a hay ride through the farm and visit the gift shop.

“It becomes a tradition for lots of people,” Geary said. “I see people who came here as kids with their parents now all grown up, coming with their own kids.”

Although the local farms are family-owned, Christmas tree sales are a big business nationally and it is a $6 million business in Rhode Island, according to the Rhode Island Christmas Tree Growers Association, a group of growers and retailers that have a common interest in promoting the Christmas tree industry.

There are about 15,000 Christmas tree growers in the U.S., and more than 100,000 people employed full or part time in the industry, according to the association. There are approximately 5,000 choose and cut farms in the United States.

It can take as many as 15 years to grow a tree of average retail sale height (six feet), but the average growing time is seven years. The top Christmas tree producing states are Oregon, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, California and North Carolina.

But Geary said there’s a shortage this year of trees from the large wholesalers. He learned this while attending a recent trade show for growers and cutters in Chicago.

“You’re going to hear about it this year in the news,” he said. “Ten years ago when money got tight, growers didn’t re-plant like they used to. They couldn’t afford it.”

Because it takes about 10 years for a tree to grow, the effects of that belt-tightening in the recession are being felt now, he said.

“But that’s at the national wholesalers level. We’re fine here,” he said.

Growers in Rhode Island sell a variety of trees to suit almost every taste, according to the growers’ association.

There’s the Balsam Fir, found throughout the Canadian Maritimes and remote parts of northern New England. This fir was the first plantation-grown Christmas tree in the Northeast. Its soft, dark green foliage, with flattened needles about three-quarters of an inch in length, has a distinctive “balsam” aroma. Its sturdy branching and excellent needle retention have made it a longtime favorite Christmas tree.

The Colorado Blue Spruce is found throughout the central Rockies, and has stout, three-sided needles about three-quarters of an inch in length. Its foliage can vary in color from dark green to indigo blue. Its sturdy branching and good needle retention make it a desirable Christmas tree, while its excellent form and outstanding color make it the premier ornamental evergreen.

The Concolor Fir, commonly known as White Fir, is widely distributed throughout the southwestern United States, from the Rockies of Colorado and New Mexico in the east, to California’s Sierra Nevada range in the west. Its soft, silvery-blue foliage, with flattened needles about two to three inches in length, has a distinctive citrus aroma. Its outstanding color and excellent needle retention make it an increasingly popular Christmas tree.

Douglas Fir, first studied by Scottish botanist David Douglas in the 1820s, is widely found throughout western North America from the interior lake country of British Columbia to the mountains of Mexico. Found in the central Rockies, the hardy “blue” strain is widely used as a Christmas tree in the Northeast. Its lush, blue-green foliage, with needles about one inch in length, is very attractive. Its sturdy branching and outstanding needle retention make this evergreen a holiday favorite.

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