Before you venture into your attic to dust off your artificial tree for this holiday season, you may want to consider visiting one of Delaware’s many Christmas tree farms so you can enjoy a beautiful live tree instead.
Some local tree farm owners opened their own Christmas tree farms after enjoying the tradition of cutting down their own family’s trees for the season.
“We used to go when I was a kid and cut cedar trees out in the woods. And we have a farm here, and we grow all kinds of stuff,” explained B&B Evergreens owner David Beebe. “One year, I think we planted 15 Christmas trees, just for the heck of it. And darn if they all didn’t grow pretty. And the neighbors bought them, and it just kind of mushroomed. Now we’ve got a couple thousand.”
Jim Landis of Landis Tree Farm said that he and his wife Lorna retired from the corporate world to farm trees, following in his father-in-law’s footsteps.
“Our thing is, we grew up with live trees. We did not grow up with artificial trees. Our thing is that we want to keep the tradition of going out and looking for a real tree, rather than going up to the attic and pulling something out of a box. That’s our primary goal, to keep the tradition,” said Landis.
“Her father, in Wisconsin, used to go to the north woods and cut Christmas trees and bring them back. He would sell the trees that he brought back to retail dealers. He did this for a number of years.”
Beebe said that his farm has been selling Christmas trees for approximately 20 years. The Landis Farm has been selling trees for 12 years.
“We started very, very small from the first year of selling, and we have a very loyal client base,” said Landis. “It has grown to a rather enviable position, as far as we’re concerned, with the number of people who come here. We have a large following.”
Beebe said that B&B also has a loyal client base, but they also see a number of new families each year.
“A lot of people come here year after year after year,” he said. “But if they haven’t been here before, we show them the different types of trees, explain what the price ranges are. If they want to tag it, we can give them a nametag and a ribbon for the tree and they can come back closer to Christmas and cut it.”
He noted that there is no right time to choose a Christmas tree, as people come in as early as the beginning of fall or as late as the end of December.
“People were coming as early as October. We’re out here picking tomatoes, and they’re tagging Christmas trees,” he said, adding that he’s even had customers on Christmas Eve.
“Some people get to come out here for four or five hours. They wander around and argue about this tree or that tree. It’s fun. Everybody has a good old time. It’s a lot of fun. There’s very few jobs where all of your customers are happy before they even get there.”
Landis said that his tree farm offers free hot chocolate and hot-spiced cider, as well as homemade cookies for families who visit.
“My wife makes over 300 dozen cookies every season. We give them cookies. There’s always something for them to drink on and snack on to keep them in the holiday spirit,” he said. “They pick the tree and we cut it for them. We bring it back to the barn out of the field and shake it and try to get all the dead needles out of it and, hopefully, any living things that are in there. We take their picture with the tree, so when they come back next year they can get their picture from the prior year.”
Beebe said his farms also offers the option of allowing customers to cut down their own tree, with their own tools, but it’s not an easy feat, he emphasized.
“They can, but they don’t do that two years in a row,” he said with a laugh. “They come out there with their little saws and hatchets, and I say, ‘OK. Knock yourself out.’ About 20 minutes later, they’re sweating and covered in pine needles. They say, ‘Bring your chainsaw.’”
B&B sells around 300 trees a season, ranging in height from around 2 feet to more than 8 feet tall.
“But most of the ones that people buy are 6 to 8 feet tall. We also have a greenhouse with smaller trees. You can buy them already in a 3-gallon pot, if they want a little teeny tree they want to grow up themselves. A lot of people take them home and decorate them in their yard every year, and that’ll be the last I see of them for five or six years before the tree is too big, and then they’ll want another,” he said with a chuckle.
B&B’s trees range in price from $35 to $40 and B&B offers a variety of trees to choose from, including Norway spruce, white pine, Douglas fir and Fraser fir.
Landis Tree Farm will plant around 2,000 trees each season, with approximately 400 people visiting the farm each year. The trees range in height from 5 feet to 12 feet, and start at $35 and go to $80.
Their tree varieties include white pine, Douglas fir, white spruce, Canaan fir, concolor fir, Fraser fir and Leyland cypress.
“People think that Leyland cypress trees are used for windbreaks and that sort of thing, and, generally, they are. It happens to be a kind of tree that is used pretty extensively in the south as a Christmas tree,” explained Landis.
Both Landis and Beebe said the tree farming business is a year-round job, with requirements all year long for caring, planting and pruning their crops.
“There’s always something to do,” Landis said with a laugh. “It’s going to take a tree probably somewhere in the vicinity of seven to nine years to grow before it becomes a sellable tree. So you don’t put it in the ground in the spring and sell it in the fall. It’s not like growing corn or soybeans. When Christmas is over, there are stumps in the ground that need to be removed… We prepare and mark where we’re going to put new trees. We plant new trees the first few weeks in April.”
“There’s a lot of work to it.,” added Beebe. “Certain types of trees you have to shear at a certain time of the year, like white pines. About the first of July, you have a two week period where you have to shear them then, because that makes them thicker for the next year. You have to spray them once monthly for different types of insects and things. There’s a lot to it.
“Every time you finish a tree, it’s like a little work of art. It’s just perfect. You almost remember trees. Even with this many trees, I can say, ‘Oh, I remember that one.’ And when you cut it, you go, ‘Aw, there goes that tree. I’ve been cutting grass around it for eight years.’”
Beebe added that there’s nothing better than celebrating the Christmas season with friends, family and a live tree that you picked out yourself.
“Always buy a fresh-cut tree. The ones you see on the roadside stands were cut about the 10th of November. You shake them real good and all the needles come off,” said Beebe. “Always buy a tree you can cut yourself. It’s more than just getting a fresh tree, it’s the fun of going out there, and little kids are running around and playing in the leaves. It’s just a fun job.”
B&B Evergreens is located at 35698 Zion Church Road near Frankford, across from the Roxanna Fire Hall. For more information, call (302) 228-3884. Landis Tree Farm is located at 28366 Johnson Lane in Harbeson. For more information, call (302) 947-2404.