Christmas tree farmers expect big weekend

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Gaines Christmas Tree Farm, on Hopkins Cemetery Road near Harrington, does little sheering of limbs, producing trees with a more natural shape, similar to what one might see growing in the wild. (Submitted photo/Howard Gaines III)

DOVER — The leftover turkey is a memory. Advent is underway.

Christmas is a-comin’ and Delaware’s Christmas tree farmers expect to be busy this weekend.

“Most growers open Thanksgiving weekend,” said Roseann Conlon. “But the biggest weekend is the first weekend in December.”

The owner of Turning Pointe farm west of Dover is ready for those in search of Christmas trees.

“It’s a special time. It’s special to watch families enjoy themselves,” said Ms. Conlon, who also is co-president of the

FRESH TREE TIPS The Delaware Christmas Tree Growers Association recommends looking for the following features when selecting a Christmas tree: • Well-rounded base • Straight “leader” at the top to support ornamental topper • Relatively straight trunk • Clear “handle” of 12 inches on bottom trunk If buying a pre-cut tree at a lot or store: • Check needles for resilience; they should be springy. • Run a branch through closed hands; needles shouldn’t come off easily. • Bend an outer branch; it should be pliable. • Bump base on the ground; if needles don’t fall off excessively the tree is fresh. • Feel the bottom of the trunk; if it’s sappy and moist the tree is fresh. The National Christmas Tree Association recommends rejecting trees with: • Excessive needle loss. • Discolored foliage. • Musty odor. • Wrinkled bark. Do: • Check water daily and make sure the trunk actually is touching water. • Keep away from heat (fireplaces and candles.) • If possible, consider lowering the temperature in the room. • Use low-heat producing lights: miniatures, or even better LED. Think safety The Delaware Electric Cooperative recommends: • Check lights before using: Inspect for brittle wire insulation, exposed or frayed wires, corroded metal parts and other defects. • Don’t plug multiple strands of lights in an outlet. Read the instructions and safety warnings that came with the lights about limits on strands. • When putting up outside decorations, make note of all overhead utility lines before you use a ladder. • Extension cords outside should be labeled as outdoor use; that information usually is found on a tag at the end of the cord. • Only buy lights and decorations tested by an organization like the Underwriters Laboratories; look for the UL symbol.

FRESH TREE TIPS
The Delaware Christmas Tree Growers Association recommends looking for the following features when selecting a Christmas tree:
• Well-rounded base
• Straight “leader” at the top to support ornamental topper
• Relatively straight trunk
• Clear “handle” of 12 inches on bottom trunk
If buying a pre-cut tree at a lot or store:
• Check needles for resilience; they should be springy.
• Run a branch through closed hands; needles shouldn’t come off easily.
• Bend an outer branch; it should be pliable.
• Bump base on the ground; if needles don’t fall off excessively the tree is fresh.
• Feel the bottom of the trunk; if it’s sappy and moist the tree is fresh.
The National Christmas Tree Association recommends rejecting trees with:
• Excessive needle loss.
• Discolored foliage.
• Musty odor.
• Wrinkled bark.
Do:
• Check water daily and make sure the trunk actually is touching water.
• Keep away from heat (fireplaces and candles.)
• If possible, consider lowering the temperature in the room.
• Use low-heat producing lights: miniatures, or even better LED.
Think safety
The Delaware Electric Cooperative recommends:
• Check lights before using: Inspect for brittle wire insulation, exposed or frayed wires, corroded metal parts and other defects.
• Don’t plug multiple strands of lights in an outlet. Read the instructions and safety warnings that came with the lights about limits on strands.
• When putting up outside decorations, make note of all overhead utility lines before you use a ladder.
• Extension cords outside should be labeled as outdoor use; that information usually is found on a tag at the end of the cord.
• Only buy lights and decorations tested by an organization like the Underwriters Laboratories; look for the UL symbol.

Delaware Christmas Tree Growers Association.

Independent grower Howard Gaines III knows the feeling.

He enjoys watching visiting children grow into adulthood and return with children of their own. Their development reminds him of his teaching days. So do the trees.

“Watching the trees grow up is like watching kids grow up when I was teacher,” said the retired technical education teacher.

Mr. Gaines bought his farm near Harrington in 1997 when he retired from Sussex Central High School.

“I tried to find other avenues for income,” he said Wednesday.

Tree farming, however, is not a quick return on the initial investment. Both he and Ms. Conlon said it takes eight to 10 years, depending on variety, to grow a marketable tree.

For Mr. Gaines, the process starts with 5-year-old transplants he buys from a Pennsylvania grower. On average he spends $2 per tree, which he plants in fields on his farm at 1948 Hopkins Cemetery Road.

“Now I have to wait eight to 10 years,” he said, “and that’s assuming no drought, no rabbits chewing on the trees in the early stages, no deer rubbing antlers on them.”

He frets equally over not enough rain and too much rain.

The trees face a “lot of perils,” he said.

Going natural

In 2014, Americans bought 26.3 million real trees and 13.9 million artificial ones, according to a survey conducted for the National Christmas Tree Association. Of those millions of real trees, 98 percent came from farms where trees are planted as a crop to be harvested.

Many of those trees — 47 percent in 2014 — end up pre-cut and stacked at chain stores and in retail lots. While those places may offer convenience, local growers argue their trees are cut fresh from the field and will hold up through the ever-lengthening Christmas season.

Hydration is critical, Mr. Gaines and Ms. Conlon said.

Mr. Gaines advised taking a freshly cut tree from his farm and placing it five gallons of water in a cool place such as a garage. Let it soak overnight, he said, before bringing it in to be decorated. It should go in a tree stand that holds water and the water should be monitored and added to as needed.

“It should hold until January,” he said, without too much of a mess.

“Mom loves our trees because there aren’t a lot of needles on the carpet.”

And, “No sugar!” he said, referring to a belief that adding sugar will help keep a tree green. “Sugar in water only for tea.”

Ms. Conlon suggested a different approach.

Before placing the tree in the stand, a small cut should be made across the bottom, she said, so the trunk can absorb more water.

“And the water should be hot,” she added, to aid absorption.

The trunk should be in water as long as the tree remains decorated, according to the Christmas tree association.

O, Christmas tree

How tall? Pine, fir or spruce? Fresh cut or with a root ball for replanting?

The most common mistake customers make is buying a too-big tree, Mr. Gaines said.

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Howard Gaines III of Harrington says watching his trees grow is like watching kids grow up. (Submitted photo/Howard Gaines III)

Once it’s home and in a stand, they realize it’s too tall.

“Now, they have to cut another foot off,” he said, “and that’s money wasted.

“Most people want a 6- to 7-foot tree.”

That’s a good size, he said. “It will fit in the stand and still have room for a star, or whatever, on top.”

However, people with large rooms might gravitate to drama trees.

Ms. Conlon considers those to be trees taller than 12 feet, but stopping at 20. Once a tree hits 20 feet tall, cutting becomes problematic, she said.

After 29 years in business, the Conlons, who established Turning Pointe at 5395 Westville Road because they wanted “an active retirement,” have found requests for larger trees is more than some might expect.

While Mr. Gaines doesn’t do dug trees — called balled and burlapped — Turning Pointe does. The demand is not high, however, and those who do want to replant usually have acreage, according to Ms. Conlon.

Cut trees at most farms can be picked and purchased on the same day, she said, but people wanting rooted trees should select it in advance, tell the grower when it’s needed and, finally, allow for the weather.

If the ground is over-saturated from rain, the tree shouldn’t be extracted.

TREE FARMS Independent tree farmers include: Fischers’ Farm, 3975 Leipsic Road, Dover. (302) 744-9786; email fischerschristmastrees@verizon.net. Four Seasons Produce, 4693 Kenton Road, Dover. (302) 423-7035. pre-cut trees. Gaines Christmas Tree Farm, 1948 Hopkins Cemetery Road, Harrington. By appointment. (302) 943-9768. www.gainesfarmandkennels.com/ The following are members of the Delaware Christmas Tree Growers Association, www.delawarechristmastreegrowersassn.com, or are listed on the Delaware Department of Agriculture’s dda.delaware.gov. The association recommends calling for hours, types of trees and other information. KENT COUNTY Berry Patch Christmas Tree Farm, 1835 Halltown Road, Hartly. (302) 423-5931 or (302) 423-9416; email Beeryptch@aol.com or lostnthyme@aol.com. Cardinal Woods Farms, 2480 Blackiston Road, Clayton. (302) 423-9283. www.cardinalwoods.net. Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekends Christmas Trees from the Good Earth, 3846 Mahan Corner Road, Marydel. (302) 492-3354. Dyer’s Tree Farm, 36 Lake Drive, Moore’s Lake, Dover. (302) 734-2111. On Facebook. E-Z Acres, 4468 Kenton Road, Cheswold. (302) 674-4383; email Jegolph1350@aol.com. Evergreen Farms, 2826 Seven Hickories Road, Dover. (302) 734-2730. Gift shop. On Facebook. Fir Tree Acres, 2216 Woodlytown Road, Magnolia. (302) 697-7396. Gordon P. Davis, 601 N. Walnut St., Milford. (302) 745-4437. Loblolly Acres, 3893 Turkey Point Road, Woodside. (302) 284-9255 or (302) 270-5238 or Loblollyacres@yahoo.com. www.loblollyacres.com/. Plain Dealing Tree Farm, 696 Plain Dealing Road, Magnolia. (302) 697-8246 Pandel’s Christmas Trees, 924 Turkey Point Road, Felton. (302) 284-4904. Poynter’s Tree Farm and Christmas Shop, 13480 S. DuPont Highway, Felton. (302) 284-4801. On Facebook. Schreppler’s Fir Tree Acres, 2216 Woodlytown Road, Magnolia. (302) 697-7396 or (302) 670-7841. Shelterwood Farm, 179 Tuxward Road, Hartly. (302) 492-8071, www.shelterwoodfarm.com. Spence’s Tree Farm, 19 Ruyter Drive, Frederica. (302) 335-4460 or (302) 393-3582. Lee and Diane Spence. Find on Facebook. Turning Pointe Farm, 5395 Westville Road, Hartly. (302) 492-0231. SUSSEX COUNTY B & B Evergreens, 35968 Zion Church, Frankford. (302) 228-3884 (cell) or (302) 436-2030 (farm). Balsam Acres, 8428 Sharptown Road (Del. 24), Laurel. (302) 875-4952. Candy Cane Tree Farm, 11219 Nancy St., Lincoln. (302) 422-6041 Don’s Tree Farm, 6396 Hickman Road, (Del. 16) Greenwood. (302) 349-0555 or donstreefarm@yahoo.com. www.donstreefarm.com. On Facebook Frank-n-Gail Christmas Tree Farm, 12822 Coastal Highway, Milton. (443) 321-9914 (office), (301) 332-0747 (Frank Burdette cell) or (610) 858-6034 (Gail Smith cell). Landis Tree Farm, 28366 Johnson Lane, Harbeson. (302) 947-2404 or landistreefarm@aol.com www.LandisTreeFarm.com. Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Sposato’s Pine Hollow Christmas Tree Farm, 16109 Hudson Road, Milton. (302) 644-0711. The Brick Barn, 21728 Bunting Road, Georgetown. (302) 856-7552. Yuletide Farm, 5282 Yuletide Lane, Milford. (302) 270-2655. NEW CASTLE COUNTY Coleman’s Christmas Tree Farm, 550 Silver Run Road, Middletown. (302) 378-1990 or (302)378-8949. www.colemanstreefarm.com Feldmann’s Christmas Tree Farm, 752 Papermill Road, Newark. (302) 737-303 Hickman’s Tree Farm, 472 Massey Church Road, Smyrna. (302) 653-6088; email hickmantreefarm@gmail.com. McCarthy Tree Farm, 1061 Dutch Neck Road, Middletown (302) 836-3171, www.mccarthytreefarm.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday Snuff Mill Farm, 467 Upper Snuff Mill Row, Hockessin. (302) 239-4938. www.snuffmillfarm.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-dusk Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

TREE FARMS
Independent tree farmers include:
Fischers’ Farm, 3975 Leipsic Road, Dover. (302) 744-9786; email fischerschristmastrees@verizon.net.
Four Seasons Produce, 4693 Kenton Road, Dover. (302) 423-7035. pre-cut trees.
Gaines Christmas Tree Farm, 1948 Hopkins Cemetery Road, Harrington. By appointment. (302) 943-9768. www.gainesfarmandkennels.com/
The following are members of the Delaware Christmas Tree Growers Association, www.delawarechristmastreegrowersassn.com, or are listed on the Delaware Department of Agriculture’s dda.delaware.gov. The association recommends calling for hours, types of trees and other information.
KENT COUNTY
Berry Patch Christmas Tree Farm, 1835 Halltown Road, Hartly. (302) 423-5931 or (302) 423-9416; email Beeryptch@aol.com or lostnthyme@aol.com.
Cardinal Woods Farms, 2480 Blackiston Road, Clayton. (302) 423-9283. www.cardinalwoods.net. Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekends
Christmas Trees from the Good Earth, 3846 Mahan Corner Road, Marydel. (302) 492-3354.
Dyer’s Tree Farm, 36 Lake Drive, Moore’s Lake, Dover. (302) 734-2111. On Facebook.
E-Z Acres, 4468 Kenton Road, Cheswold. (302) 674-4383; email Jegolph1350@aol.com.
Evergreen Farms, 2826 Seven Hickories Road, Dover. (302) 734-2730. Gift shop. On Facebook.
Fir Tree Acres, 2216 Woodlytown Road, Magnolia. (302) 697-7396.
Gordon P. Davis, 601 N. Walnut St., Milford. (302) 745-4437.
Loblolly Acres, 3893 Turkey Point Road, Woodside. (302) 284-9255 or (302) 270-5238 or Loblollyacres@yahoo.com. www.loblollyacres.com/.
Plain Dealing Tree Farm, 696 Plain Dealing Road, Magnolia. (302) 697-8246
Pandel’s Christmas Trees, 924 Turkey Point Road, Felton. (302) 284-4904.
Poynter’s Tree Farm and Christmas Shop, 13480 S. DuPont Highway, Felton. (302) 284-4801. On Facebook.
Schreppler’s Fir Tree Acres, 2216 Woodlytown Road, Magnolia. (302) 697-7396 or (302) 670-7841.
Shelterwood Farm, 179 Tuxward Road, Hartly. (302) 492-8071, www.shelterwoodfarm.com.
Spence’s Tree Farm, 19 Ruyter Drive, Frederica. (302) 335-4460 or (302) 393-3582. Lee and Diane Spence. Find on Facebook.
Turning Pointe Farm, 5395 Westville Road, Hartly. (302) 492-0231.
SUSSEX COUNTY
B & B Evergreens, 35968 Zion Church, Frankford. (302) 228-3884 (cell) or (302) 436-2030 (farm).
Balsam Acres, 8428 Sharptown Road (Del. 24), Laurel. (302) 875-4952.
Candy Cane Tree Farm, 11219 Nancy St., Lincoln. (302) 422-6041
Don’s Tree Farm, 6396 Hickman Road, (Del. 16) Greenwood. (302) 349-0555 or donstreefarm@yahoo.com. www.donstreefarm.com. On Facebook
Frank-n-Gail Christmas Tree Farm, 12822 Coastal Highway, Milton. (443) 321-9914 (office), (301) 332-0747 (Frank Burdette cell) or (610) 858-6034 (Gail Smith cell).
Landis Tree Farm, 28366 Johnson Lane, Harbeson. (302) 947-2404 or landistreefarm@aol.com www.LandisTreeFarm.com. Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Sposato’s Pine Hollow Christmas Tree Farm, 16109 Hudson Road, Milton. (302) 644-0711.
The Brick Barn, 21728 Bunting Road, Georgetown. (302) 856-7552.
Yuletide Farm, 5282 Yuletide Lane, Milford. (302) 270-2655.
NEW CASTLE COUNTY
Coleman’s Christmas Tree Farm, 550 Silver Run Road, Middletown. (302) 378-1990 or (302)378-8949. www.colemanstreefarm.com
Feldmann’s Christmas Tree Farm, 752 Papermill Road, Newark. (302) 737-303
Hickman’s Tree Farm, 472 Massey Church Road, Smyrna. (302) 653-6088; email hickmantreefarm@gmail.com.
McCarthy Tree Farm, 1061 Dutch Neck Road, Middletown (302) 836-3171, www.mccarthytreefarm.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Snuff Mill Farm, 467 Upper Snuff Mill Row, Hockessin. (302) 239-4938. www.snuffmillfarm.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-dusk Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Soil that’s too wet would separate from the roots, she said.

“That’s not good because if air hits the roots the likelihood of it surviving diminishes.”

A common mistake people make with balled and burlapped trees is they like a big tree, she said, while not factoring the weight and size of the root ball. A 6-foot tree with root and soil can weigh as much as 250 pounds, according to the national association.

As for cost, fresh-cut trees usually are priced $40 and up at many farms, Ms. Conlon said, speaking in general terms in her role as co-president of the Delaware association. Digging a tree could cost $10 more per foot.

Mr. Gaines, who said he uses few chemicals and no artificial coloring, prices his trees at $5 per foot on average, with many starting at $25. Most are $35, he said, and you can leave the saw at home. Both he and Ms. Conlon cut trees.

Second chance

The work starts now for people who buy balled and burlapped trees.

“They need to, now, go outside and prepare the planting site,” said Dorothy Abbott earlier this week. Ms. Abbott, a renewable resources extension agent with the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension in Dover, emphasized the now.

While the ground isn’t frozen yet, there’s no guarantee it won’t by Christmas.

The site for the tree should take in account drainage and with an eye toward future size.

The width of the hole should be 10 inches more than the diameter of the tree’s trunk, according to the Delaware association’s website.

To determine depth, measure the top of the root ball to the ground.

“Backfill with loose soil, including some from the original planting site, mixed with well-rotted compost,” Ms. Abbott said.

“Cover the planting site and it will be ready for the tree to be set-in once the holiday season is over,” she said.

As for caring for the tree while it’s being used inside, the root ball should be watered daily.

The trick is keeping it moist while not saturating it. The burlap wrapping should not be removed.

After the tree has completed its Christmas duties, it should be eased back outside, according to the national tree group’s website.

Don’t plant in freezing temperatures; move it first to a cool location, such as a garage, or in a sheltered location out of the wind for a few days. But don’t wait too long to plant, the website says.

While that site recommends leaving the burlap, the Delaware growers and Ms. Abbott disagree. The burlap should come off, place the tree in the hole making sure it doesn’t lean and add more dirt.

Water well and mulch, Ms. Abbott said, but don’t place the mulch against the tree trunk.

The International Society of Arboriculture now recommends removing the burlap, Ms. Abbott said.

“ ‘Old school’ thought was to leave it and the material would quickly decay, but that wasn’t happening,” she said.

“Now days, we are teaching folks to remove all material surrounding the root ball and gently place the roots in the newly dug planting site.”

The Delaware growers also recommend watering weekly if temperatures are above freezing.

Aesthetics and pragmatism

Most growers prune regularly to get a neat, conical shape.

Not so Mr. Gaines. He makes only slight modifications.

“Was that what you saw in the ’60s?” he asked of the perfect cone shape trees.

While the look of the tree — shape and color — might be a matter of personal preference buyers should consider their ornaments’ weight when selecting a tree.

And a slender fir or cypress might fit a smaller room better than the usually fuller spruce and pine.

“White pine, if pruned correctly, is lovely,” Ms. Conlon said. “It lasts a long time.

“But it has soft branches so it’s not an option for people who use heavy ornaments.”

Douglas fir is popular, but during the growing stage can develop needle cast, said Mr. Gaines, who has lost some trees due to the disease.

Like Ms. Conlon, Mr. Gaines said the white pine holds up well and has long needles, but heavy ornaments will slide off the soft branches.

Norway spruce goes to the top of his list. It has shorter needles and stiffer branches that accommodate heavy ornaments.

“It’s a nice-looking tree,” he said.

The blue spruce with its unusual coloring may be eye-catching, but Mr. Gaines isn’t a fan.

“It’s very beautiful but it’s like decorating a cactus,” he said. “I cut one for a customer last week and should have charged double.”

He laughed. “I didn’t enjoy the experience at all.”

Extras

Turning Pointe, like several other Delaware operations, offers more than trees. The Evergreen Spirit Gift Shop sells gifts items, Christmas collectibles, ornaments and decoration items.

Turning Pointe, open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Dec. 23, also has custom-made Christmas greenery, including wreaths, centerpieces and grave blankets.

Mr. Gaines, on the other hand, deals only in trees and sells by appointment. By doing the latter, people can bring dogs with them to the farm.

He also deals in working German shepherds at the farm, and is passionate about “good” dogs.

“If it has good recall, bring them,” he said.

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Plugging too many strands of lights into an outlet is dangerous, according to the Delaware (Electric Cooperative. Submitted/Underwriters Laboratories)

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