SHAKING OFF THE SNOW, Brendan Glavin, left, and David Watson take care of the tree yard at Skillins Greenhouse in Brunswick.

SHAKING OFF THE SNOW, Brendan Glavin, left, and David Watson take care of the tree yard at Skillins Greenhouse in Brunswick.

BRUNSWICK

A s roadsides and parking lots fill with vendors setting up makeshift forests of

Christmas trees, it begs the question: Do you know where your Christmas tree comes from?

And when Christmas is over, where do they go?

According to the Maine Christmas Tree Association,

98 percent of Christmas trees grown in Maine are raised on plantations — and most leave the state.

“Most of the trees are exported to New York, but some farmers sell to New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts,” said Maine Christmas Tree Association President Gaye Richards. “Maine trees go all across New England.”

Richards, a full-time Christmas tree farmer, raises trees on 250 acres in Mapleton, but many of the farm’s trees make long journeys south of Aroostook County where they were born.

The reason: Maine is the right atmosphere for a “super” species of balsam fir the Maine Christmas Tree Association developed more than three decades ago.

Founded in 1962, the trade group cultivated a strand of balsam fir which Richards said had “better needle retention and resistance to pests, and better color and fragrance,” among other attributes.

Richards described the balsam fir as a “finicky” species, requiring a specific climate and an altitude that is “not too high and not too low.”

Fortunately for in-state Christmas tree farmers, Maine fits the balsam fir bill to a T.

In general, Richards said northern Maine typically has larger tree farms that export farther while southern Maine has smaller tree farms that sell local.

For those who want to keep the tradition alive of selecting and cutting their own tree, there still are a couple local Christmas tree farms that offer that option.

Though only 14 percent of all Christmas trees sold in 2012 were choose-and-cut, for some it’s considered the only way to go.

Rice Christmas Tree Farm in West Durham sells most of their balsam firs as cut-your-own.

Owner Dave Rice starts selling trees the Friday after Thanksgiving and opens Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. the following weekends. They also offer complimentary hot cocoa and cookies for kids.

“People like the tradition of cutting their own trees,” Rice said, “and people like to know where their trees have come from.”

Running low on trees after their second weekend, Rice said tree buying season is picking up earlier than previous years. “We sold twice as many trees this year in the first week open than last year,” he said.

Hummer Christmas Tree Farm in Bath, owned by Jim and Susan Hummer, also offers the choose-and-cut option, though their season is already over.

Choose-and-cut farms are often limited in the number of trees available and have a short selling season. The Hummers’ farm sold out in three days this year, but will have a greater number available in future seasons.

“The majority of trees we sell are between 7 and 8 feet tall,” Jim Hummer said. Balsam firs require six to 10 years to mature and reach that height, he said.

Richards said some tree sellers import stock from Canada, but the majority of trees at roadside lots are raised in Maine.

Peaslee’s Trees has set up shop for the last 18 years in front of Johnson’s Sporting Goods at 206 Bath Road in Brunswick. Their balsam fir trees come from Clark Granger’s tree farm in China, Maine.

Berry’s Maine Trees and Wreaths cart their balsam firs in from Nutkin Knoll Christmas Tree Farm in Newburgh. Owner Jean Berry operates in front of Brooks Feed & Farm at 86 Union St., Brunswick, where she has set up for the last 20 years.

Skillins Greenhouse at 422 Bath Road, Brunswick, grow their own trees on a farm in Falmouth and then ship them to their sister stores. These include a selection of “wild trees” which have not undergone the rigorous pruning process that traditional trees face.

Larger chain stores that sell trees draw stock from a wider pool.

Lowe’s Home Improvement ships trees north from Christmas tree farms in South Carolina and Connecticut, where the longer growing season produces trees faster.

Real Christmas trees are a big — but threatened — business.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, 24.5 million Christmas trees were sold in the United States in 2012 — but that was 6 million fewer than the previous year. Artificial tree sales increased in 2012 by 1.4 million trees from the previous year.

The retail market value of real Christmas tree sales topped $1 billion in 2012, while artificial tree sales were at $790 million.

From the plantations to the sales lot, the Christmas tree industry is a boon to local economies in Maine, Richards said, though she did not have a figure for statewide annual sales.

Between planting, care and maintenance, pruning, and harvesting, Richards hires locals almost yearround, including a couple “ornery moose who help with the pruning,” she said.

The Maine Christmas Tree Association maintains that the Christmas tree industry is more than just a zero-sum-game in terms of the environment: An acre of farmed Christmas trees produces the daily oxygen requirement of 18 people.

Due to the long growing time and variable conditions, Richards said sustainability is essential to longevity for Christmas tree farmers.

“We plant three trees for every tree we harvest and we plant every year,” she said. “The last three years have been wet and we’ve lost some trees that didn’t have proper drainage, so we always plant extra.”


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