Christmas tree farms say consumers aren’t cutting back
Frank Farms in Athens has been in the Christmas tree-selling business for 23 years.
But this year, there will be no retail sales, only wholesale.
Kay Frank said she’s selling off all of the trees in bundles of 12 or more as a way of eventually giving up the business at 16717 State Highway Route 29, after her husband Phil’s death from cancer last year.
“We have three children, and they’re in three different states,” she said. “It’s just very hard to manage everything. We had a very good business for 23 years, but it’s a time for a change.”
Frank calls the move a “bittersweet decision,” adding that she’ll sell the trees to other retailers until the roughly 4,000 of them are gone.
“My plan at this point in time isn’t to plant anymore Christmas trees,” she said. “I’m just trying to simplify the farm responsibilities.”
Although she sells Scotch pine and white pines, Frank said the most popular have always been the firs.
“A lot of people are going toward the fir trees, and we’ve been very successful the last few years with the fir trees,” she said. “They smell extremely aromatic, they have a straight, central trunk, and I think it’s just a very pretty tree.”
Tree sales untrimmed
The operators of other area tree farms say they’re doing OK, or better than usual, so far this year. If people are trimming their holiday spending because of the economic downturn, Christmas trees aren’t getting the ax, they say.
Jane Pogorzelski, who co-owns Honey Bear Tree Farm at 1919 S. Wake Road in New Berlin with her husband, Val, said 2009 sales appear to be up.
“We’re actually ahead of last year,” she said.
Honey Bear sells pine, fir and spruce trees and is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until Dec. 13. Pines are $33 apiece, and firs and spruces are $48, regardless of size.
This year’s wet weather, while playing havoc with corn and other crops, hasn’t hindered tree growth or led to more harmful insects, she added.
“The Christmas trees are doing very well,” Pogorzelski said. “They’ve had enough moisture, and they’re really looking good.”
Toni Krone, of Krone Christmas Tree Farms at 7674 East State Route 54 in Riverton, agreed the trees look good.
“On the years that it’s really dry, you just worry about them drying out quicker because they’re already starving for water like any other plant would be,” she said.
Krone sells spruces and pines for $35. Firs are $60 up to six feet, and every additional foot bumps the bill $10 more. The tree farm is open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays.
“I think people usually have their kind of tree that they like and that’s what they get year after year,” she said. “I would say the firs are pretty popular. The firs tend to keep their needles the longest of any tree, plus they have a really good aroma.
“Some of them smell kind of fruity, others have a pine smell that is stronger than the other trees.”
Truck-in lot doing well
Sales this year also have been good at at least one Springfield truck-in tree lot, where the owner said the poor economy hasn’t affected his business.
“It’s been pretty decent so far this year,” said Bryon Helsel of Frosty’s Trees, next to Ace Hardware, 1600 Wabash Ave.
Helsel said he has been setting up shop in Springfield for nearly 27 years, bringing in trees grown in Michigan, where he plants about 10,000 Christmas trees annually.
“Michigan trees are better than Illinois trees,” Helsel said. “They usually get at least a couple of nights of good frost to keep them dormant.”
He said he sells about 3,000 to 4,000 trees in Springfield each holiday season.
“It’s usually busiest right now until a week before Christmas,” Helsel said. “Usually by the 15th or 16th, things start getting slow.”
Rhys Saunders can be reached at (217) 788-1521 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tips for picking a tree
_Measure the ceiling height and the width area of the room where the tree will be displayed before heading out to a Christmas tree farm or lot.
_Buy the tree in an open space with good lighting.
_Avoid trees that look dried out. A common mistake is to confuse frozen needles with those that are truly dry.
_Select a tree that has a trunk sufficiently straight. Pines will usually have some crook in them.
_Check that the tree has a sufficiently long trunk bottom to accommodate a tree stand.
_Stand the tree in water the entire time it is in the house, and cut an inch or two off the butt end just before you put it into its indoor stand.
Source: National Christmas Tree Association and University of Illinois Extension
Did you know?
_There are nearly 300 Christmas tree farms in Illinois producing a crop worth $6.5 million.
_The state ranks 17th in the number of Christmas tree farms with 291. That’s according to statistics released earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
_McHenry County in northern Illinois harvests more trees than any other Illinois county. Macon County comes in second.
_Oregon is the state with the most Christmas tree farms. It has 1,852 farms.
The USDA’s numbers are based on the 2007 Census of Agriculture. The census is conducted every five years. It’s a complete count of the nation’s farms and ranches and the people who operate them.