WELLINGTON COUNTY – The dreary weather that ushered in the first Saturday of December, officially “Christmas Tree Day” in Ontario, didn’t seem to slow business for local growers and retailers.
Locals and those venturing outside of urban areas, explored Wellington County tree farms with saws in hand and eyes set on finding the perfect evergreen.
Others eschewed the muddy slog and opted for pre-cut options delivered from Ontario plantations and nurseries to local tree farms.
Calls to Madeira Farms in Guelph/Eramosa last weekend seemingly rang in from everywhere, Peter Williams told the Advertiser.
“We’ve never had people coming from Toronto before,” he remarked.
For family-run Erin Hill Acres, thus far it’s been busier than ever, Jennifer Garrard said.
Michelle Breukelman at Evergreen Farms said there’s definitely increased interest; she anticipates the Guelph/Eramosa farm will close a week earlier than last year.
Alison McCrindle at Chickadee Christmas Trees has experienced strong sales, but not to the level seen during the pandemic, when she said frenzied lineups ran down the road to the Puslinch farm.
Some county Christmas tree farms opened on Nov. 18, but most opted to kick off the season last weekend.
“We are off to a great start,” Christmas Tree Farmers of Ontario (CTFO) executive director Shirley Brennan said, speaking on behalf of the 418 farm members growing evergreens on about 8,100 acres across the province.
It’s a quick season: anywhere from a week to two weeks into the month, every tree is likely to be sold.
“It’s getting to be the norm,” Brennan said.
Since the first Christmas tree on record was burnt to a crisp and danced around during the 14th-century in what is now modern-day Estonia and Latvia, the tradition of harvesting a living tree and decorating it as a Christmas centre piece has endured.
It’s a $17-million industry in the province annually, and $163 million nationally, according to the CTFO.
More than a million trees are purchased domestically each year, in addition to the over two-million Christmas trees Canada exports across the globe.
It takes between seven and 10 years for an evergreen to grow to a size where its ready to be cut, requiring forethought and planning to keep trees available year after year.
At Evergreen Farms there’s a cutoff at around 1,500 trees; and at Madeira Farms, tags differentiate between trees that can be cut and those to be left alone.
But like all farmers, the best-laid plans are subject to mother nature’s whims.
Williams noted a drought in 2012-13 and a lack of demand prior to 2017 has caused a decline in tree supply still being felt today; and wholesalers have cut back on the quantity of trees that can be purchased by individual farms.
Breukelman also cited a drought she said killed a number of seedlings two years ago.
Fortune changed this year however, Breukelman added, with some trees gaining upwards of 21 inches of growth. “That was incredible,” she remarked.
Some area growers also said more trees were cut down than should have been during the stir-crazy pandemic.
“There was some over-cutting that happened during COVID-19,” said Derek Elliott, of Elliott Tree Farms near Hillsburgh.
That led to trees being cut from groves where they could have been left to stand for another season or two.
Despite some concerns about supply, there are still plenty of options available in the county for those after a real tree and the experience that goes with it.
Fraser firs, with their strong woodsy scent and superior needle retention, make the species an expensive go-to, according to area growers.
However, many are pre-cut and delivered to area farms because they don’t grow well in the county.
The fragrant balsam fir is a runner up, followed by traditional-looking white and scotch pines, and white and blue varieties of hardy spruce trees.
Growers encourage shoppers to explore the varieties available during what’s expected to be the last weekend for a cut-your-own experience at area farms on Dec. 9 and 10.
Depending on supply, some growers expect to remain open the following weekend for pre-cut offerings.