There are lots of trees available locally, for now.
A trio of tree farms in and around Ashland, Holmes and Wayne counties report a good selection of Christmas trees available, but the people working on the farms advise folks not to wait too long before getting a tree.
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Joel Berry of Twinsberry Farms is a Wayne County tree farmer who began planting Christmas trees on his farm on the north end of Shreve in 1974, and has been growing them since.
He points out that the number of people clamoring to get outside and do something after being cooped up because of the coronavirus in 2020, led to a big rush on Christmas trees last year.
"We were slammed last year," he said. "That caused our inventory to be down this year."
Local flavor on Canaan firs
Berry said the Fraser and Canaan firs are the most popular trees. The 6- to 8-foot trees sell for between $65 to $80.
He said the late James Brown of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC), who instructed Berry in forestry at Ohio State, was instrumental in helping Ohio growers develop the Canaan firs, which initially came out of the Canaan Valley in the Appalachians of West Virginia.
Berry said he sells more than 1,000 trees annually at his Shreve farm, but he has not done as much wholesaling of trees this year.
"We normally wholesale 1,000 or more, but we just sent out a load of 100 trees," he said.
Wide variety at Pine Tree Barn
Brad Moore, nursery manager at Pine Tree Barn, on state Route 226 south of Wooster, said they have been busy this season but still have a wide variety of trees. He said the Pine Tree Barn will have trees right up through the third week of December.
"We've got a really nice selection," he added. "If you can't find a pre-cut that you like, you can always go out and cut one of the thousands in our field."
Thanksgiving weekend is traditionally the busiest weekend for the tree sales, and this year was no different.
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"People were buying trees early, thinking there weren't going to be enough trees," Moore said. "But we've got plenty of trees here."
Labor, fuel and fertilizer costs have gone up and those costs have led to a modest increases in the price of trees at Pine Tree Barn, which range anywhere from $25 to $159, depending on the size and style of tree.
Moore agreed that Fraser firs are the most popular trees for Christmas, along with the similar looking Canaan firs.
"They have strong branches and hold their needles real well," Moore said. "The Canaan firs are real similar to Fraser firs. And the genetics of the Canaan firs came from the OARDC in Wooster. Most people can't tell the difference between the two, and they both perform real well."
Holmes County tree farm
Jim Van Keuren of Sycamore Hollow Tree Farm, north of Nashville in Holmes County, started growing trees on his farm when he worked for Pine Tree Barn, where he was employed for 25 years as a grower.
"I continued to love growing trees on my own. They are fun to be around and to watch grow," Van Keuren said. "It is very labor intensive, more than most people think."
He does most of the work himself, but gets some help from family members.
"We have around 10 acres of trees here, and the sizes that people are looking for mostly are the 6- to 8-footers," Van Keuren said.
Sycamore Hollow sells both pre-cut and cut-your-own trees at its farm on Township Road 478, and it also sells pre-cut trees at its retail store, Modern Farmhouse, located just east of Millersburg on state Route 39 by the Olive Branch Home and Garden store.
Sycamore Hollow trees are also available at Local Roots in Wooster and Ashland.
Van Keuren said he has ample supply of trees to meet the demands of holiday shoppers.
"I would say, if there is a shortage of trees, it would be on the trucking or delivery end of things," he said. "When I plant seedlings, I'm looking eight to 12 years down the road. It's not like I just planted last spring to cut them in the fall."
A labor intensive business
Berry said there aren’t many tree farmers left in this part of Ohio.
“It’s a real passion of mine,” Berry said. “Just being able to put a tree in the ground, watch it grow for 10 years, bloom and blossom, it’s pretty amazing.
“But it’s also a lot of work,” he added. “It’s not for the faint of heart. No one sees you out there sheering and shaping trees in the sun when it’s 90 degrees in July.
"If I had known 10 years ago that the coronavirus would drive people to tree farms the way it did last year, I'd have probably planted double the acres. But there was no way of knowing," Berry continued.
He planted 6,500 trees on his farm last year, he said.
Moore said anywhere between 6,000 to 10,000 trees are planted annually at Pine Tree Barn. He expects to plant 6,000 trees in 2022.
"It varies from year to year, depending what blocks we clear off, and what areas need replanted," he said.
Van Keuren said he plants less than 1,000 trees annually.
Ashland Christmas tree farms are preparing for future demand
Tree farms come in different shapes and sizes.
For owners Vickie and Al Holdren of Alexander Tree Farm, located east of Ashland, 10 acres has been just fine. After purchasing the property from a friend and neighbor in 2018, the Holdrens have been selling Christmas trees for four years.
But those 10 precious acres of trees are about to run their course due to the increase in demand and supply shortages for Christmas trees this holiday seasons, according to the Holdrens.
"I think COVID has something to do with it," Vickie Holdren said. "It's a way to get outside and feel more normal ... to get outside and cut a tree. It was an escape."
Supply concerns for the rest of this Christmas season are minimal — it's the next two years that worry her the most.
Holdren is planning on buying about 450 trees to plant for the 2023 holiday season. So far, they've sold 218 trees in 2021, a higher amount than last year, she said.
Pandemic helped boost sales in Christmas trees
Sugargrove Tree farm, located southwest of Ashland, has seen record sales this holiday season and owner Ben Smith isn't expecting it to slow down anytime soon.
Since Black Friday, Smith has sold 1,100 Christmas trees in the 30-acre field dedicated for growing trees — more than the usual Christmas tree season. On Nov. 28 alone, Smith sold 306 trees.
Though the demand is slightly higher than years past, Smith has noticed a dip in Christmas tree supply. In 2020, Sugargrove ordered 2,200 trees while in 2021, Smith ordered 1,500 trees.
"Next year could be worse," Smith said.
Smith's Christmas trees take eight years to grow, which means supply headaches can't be fixed overnight or one, two or three years down the line.
Thinking ahead for the years to come, Smith has ordered 4,500 trees this year that'll likely be ready by 2029.
"We try to make calculated guesses," Smith said.
This article originally appeared on The Daily Record: Christmas tree boom seen throughout Ashland, Wayne and Holmes counties