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 about 13 years before they are harvested. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko.
HAMBURG — You might have thought that all our local crops are done for the year, but there’s one big crop that’s just come into season: Christmas trees.
“The No. 1 seller is Fraser fir,” said Steve Lockwood, owner of Lockwood’s Greenhouses, located at 4484 Clark St. in Hamburg. They are growing about 3,000 trees.
While there are three kinds of trees that have been generally used for Christmas trees – spruce, pine and fir – Lockwood’s grows only firs.
Spruce trees don’t hold their needles well, Lockwood explained. Pine trees hold their needles, but they typically don’t have as nice of a shape. Fir trees have both a nice shape and hold their needles well.
You can expect a fir to hold its needles for four to five weeks in the house. Lockwood told the story of a customer who had a wreath made of fir boughs. They stuck the wreath in the garage after Christmas, and when they discovered it the next winter, they just had to show it to the Lockwood’s staff. The wreath was brown, as you would expect, but the needles were still tight on the branches.
When it comes to choosing between long needles or short needles, it’s 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 Some people steer away from short-needled trees, using the outdated rule of thumb that short-needled trees drop their needles fastest. They’re thinking of spruce trees, which do have short needles and drop their needles. But, now that we also have Fraser firs on the market, we can’t use that rule of thumb anymore. Fraser firs have short needles, but retain their needles well.
Color is also a matter of taste with firs. You can find firs ranging 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, he said. It could simply be because you’re not handling it anymore. Lockwood noted that people make sachets out of balsam needles. If you bend or crush the needles a bit, you’ll get more scent.
While Fraser firs are popular, Lockwood is trying new varieties, as well. One reason for trying new varieties is that there could be a disease affecting the roots of the Fraser firs. If that proves to be the case, that 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. With Christmas trees, Lockwood’s starts with three-year-old plants, then grows them outside, for 10 years, before they harvest them.
The other reason Lockwood is trying out other varieties is that he is always looking for plants to offer that are a little bit unusual, such as the tea plant we talked about, in a previous column.
He is testing some different varieties of fir in the field now, to see how they perform. If they do well, you could see them, in coming years.
Here’s 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, it 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 a medium green.
Concolor fir: Long needles that can be light blue, although the color can range to green. It has a citrusy aroma.
Firs make a great Christmas tree, because they have an attractive form and they retain their needles well. You can choose from a range of colors and needle length.
Connie Oswald Stofko is publisher of Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com
, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email Connie@BuffaloNiagaraGardening.com.