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Gardening & More: The last big crop of the year: Christmas trees

OH CHRISTMAS TREE — Firs make excellent Christmas trees, because they have an attractive shape and don’t drop their needles. These are growing at Lockwood’s Greenhouses in Hamburg. The trees are various sizes because they were planted in different years. Firs are grown for 13 years, before they are harvested. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko.
You might have thought that all our local crops were done for the year, but one big crop just came into season: Christmas trees.

“The No. 1 seller is Fraser fir,” said Steve Lockwood, owner of Lockwood’s Greenhouses at 4484 Clark St. in Hamburg. That business grows approximately 3,000 trees.

While three kinds of trees have been generally used for Christmas trees – spruce, pine and fir – Lockwood’s currently grows only firs.

Spruce trees do not hold their needles well. Pine trees do, but they typically don’t have very nice shapes. Fir trees have both a nice shape and hold their needles.

Firs hold needles up to four – five weeks, indoors. Lockwood spoke about a customer who had a wreath made of fir boughs. That person stuck the wreath in the garage after Christmas and, when he or she discovered it the next winter, the wreath was brown, as you would expect, but the needles were still tight on the branches.

Choosing between long needles or short needles is simply a matter of taste. Some people steer away from short-needled trees, using the outdated rule of thumb that short-needled trees drop their needles faster, as spruce trees do. But, now that we have Fraser firs on the market, we can’t use that rule of thumb anymore. Fraser firs have short needles with good retention.

Color is also a matter of taste, with firs. This type of tree ranges from dark green to silvery blue.

While each fir has its own particular fragrance, the one that stands out is the concolor fir.

“When you break the needles, it has a citrusy smell,” Lockwood said. “It smells like an orange peel.”

If your Christmas tree seems to lose its scent a few days after you decorate it, it might not be because it has dried out; it could simply be because you’re not handling it anymore. Lockwood said that people make sachets out of balsam needles. If you bend or crush the needles a bit, you will get more scent.

While Fraser firs are popular, Lockwood is trying new varieties, as well. There could be a disease affecting the Fraser firs’ roots. If that proves to be the case, it could affect the crop. Other varieties of fir may be more resistant to that disease.

“It’s not like a geranium plant where you can just pick a different variety” to grow the next year, Lockwood said. The business starts its Christmas trees with three-year-old plants, then grows them outside for 10 years, before harvesting.

The other reason Lockwood is trying out other varieties is that he said he is always looking for unusual plants to offer. He is testing different varieties of fir in the field now, to see how they perform. If they do well, customers could see them in coming years.

Here is a breakdown of the traits of various firs:

– Fraser fir: Short needles that are dark green on the top of the needle and a silvery blue on the bottom. Depending on how the branches bend, the tree can give a two-toned effect. Canaan and balsam firs are similar to Fraser firs, with short needles that are medium green.

– Douglas fir: Medium needles that are a medium green. Nordman fir and Turkish fir are similar to a Douglas fir, with medium length needles that are medium green.

– Concolor fir: Long needles that can be light blue, though the color can range to green. It has a citrusy aroma.

Connie Oswald Stofko is the publisher of Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email
Connie@BuffaloNiagaraGardening.com.
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