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Christmas tree prices nothing to 'ho ho ho' about in 2001

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Posted: Tuesday, November 27, 2001 10:00 pm

News-Sentinel staff writer

Lodians are likely to shell out more green than ever for a Christmas tree this year.

Expect the average tree to cost a few dollars more than it did last year - and don't be surprised to find prices have jumped as much as 20 percent at some local lots for the most desirable specimens.

Behind the hikes are high demand, low supply, rising production costs and a shortage of seedlings, industry insiders say.

Many buyers this year are being drawn to the choose-and-cut market out of reasons like tradition and value - not to mention the fun of cutting down their own tree.

Take care of your tree

For most Americans, the wild, bracing aroma of a fresh-cut Christmas tree evokes a flood of nostalgic holiday memories.

Many, however, are unaware of the important role played by maintenance in getting the most out of their trees - and preventing a potential fire hazard which could ruin their holidays altogether.

Since a lot of people may put up their Christmas tree just after Thanksgiving and leave it up until well after the new year, it should prove helpful to follow a few important tips on keeping that spruce tree spruced-up.

. Make a fresh cut: Before raising your tree, cut off at least a half-inch at the bottom. This will open up pores that have become clogged by sap, and allow the tree to drink in all the water it needs to stay fresh. The fresh-cut surface should be creamy white - not yellow or brown. Cut again if necessary.

You should make this cut regardless of whether a hole has been drilled to accommodate a pin-type stand.

Get the tree in water as soon as possible after making the cut; the more time the tree is out of water after the cut is made, the less its ability will be to absorb water during its stay in your home.

. Put it in water: Check the stand for leaks. Put the tree in a sturdy stand which will hold at least a gallon of water. Fill the stand only with plain water. If the tree cannot go up immediately after being cut, put it in a bucket of water, and protect it from wind and freezing temperatures.

. Water daily: The average tree consumes between a quart and a gallon of water each day. If the water level in the stand drops below the cut end of the trunk, a seal of pine tar will soon form, and the tree will become unable to absorb water until another cut is made.

. Keep away from heat: Place the tree well away from such heating sources as vents, fire places, wood stoves, radiators, TV sets and sunny windows.

Be careful not to inadvertently block a door with the tree or rearranged furniture. Make sure to dispose of the tree before it dies; when needles start shedding, it's time for the tree to go. Never burn any part of a Christmas tree in a wood stove or fire place; this causes a tar buildup which can result in a chimney fire.

- Brian Ross

"Each student got to saw five times," said Donna Tungesvik, who brought her first-grade class from Lodi Adventist Elementary out to Galt's Forest Creek Christmas Trees on Tuesday to pick out a tree to adorn their classroom.

"We'll have it in water back at the school within 15 minutes," she said as her students squealed in delight while a motorized tree-shaker jostled the loose pine needles off the boughs of their 7-foot Douglas fir.

Some shoppers are steering clear this year of the tall trees and more expensive varieties in favor of more moderately priced alternatives.

In the lot of Lodi's Wal-Mart store on Kettleman Lane, a 6- to 7-foot Noble fir is priced at $47.48.

"That's quite a bit higher than last year," said shopper Pam Moody, who was instead checking out Douglas fir trees, which could be had in the same size for $23.74.

"I'm just going to get something a little less expensive, I guess," Moody said.

Others didn't mind spending more.

Because of the importance of Christmas to American families, folks like Ron Nadeau of Galt are more than happy to play St. Nick when it comes to buying the best for their families.

Nadeau had visited four area dealers before he arrived at Art's Tree Lot, which has been setting up shop at the Lodi Grape Festival Grounds for the past 37 Christmas seasons.

Last year, Nadeau paid $76 for a 7-foot Noble fir. In 2001, the same tree could wind up costing him upwards of $100.

"For what I want, the prices seem to be running in the high 80s," he said. "But that's only $10 more than last year.

"Hey, that's only (the price of a) lunch."

Although operator Art Dunn said the first few days of sales have been disappointingly slow, he is confident that business will soon pick up.

"This is about the earliest that Thanksgiving can ever come," said Dunn, a retired lumberjack from Calaveras County, as he waited for customers to show up Tuesday afternoon.

Weekend storms were also responsible for keeping many shoppers at home, he said, adding that the next three weekends should see things turn around - weather permitting.

There are a number of factors behind rising tree prices, industry insiders say.

"The situation is that the demand far outstrips the supply," said Terry Christner, a tree farmer from Molalla, Ore., who currently has about 125,000 trees growing on his 70-acre spread in Clackamas County - an area which is one of the biggest producers of Christmas trees on earth.

About 10 years ago, growers were lucky to get $1.80 per foot for their Noble fir trees, which must grow for eight to 12 years before they are ready for market, Christner said.

Today, however, increased demand means the same tree may fetch more than $5 per foot.

But in recent years the rising cost of growing trees and shipping them to market has meant that growers like Christner have had to cope with ever-shrinking profit margins.

At about $7 an hour, Oregon tree-farm laborers now earn the highest established minimum wage in the nation, Christner said. A recent change in Oregon law lifted Christmas tree farming's protection as an agricultural enterprise - meaning in addition to higher wages, growers now must pay overtime to laborers for working in excess of 40 hours a week.

Another important part of the equation has been the scarcity of seedlings brought about by a cyclic shortage of the pine cones produced by special trees used for seed stock, Christner said.

"At this point in the season, if you wanted to start your own lot, you couldn't do it," he said. "The trees simply aren't available any more."


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