Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Today, I’d like to address an issue that recently came up about Christmas Trees which can cause some people to have misunderstandings.

A recent article in the Chicago Tribune talked about how most people don’t know a “secret” about Christmas Trees. The “secret” described was that trees are “spray painted green.” Well, sometimes the news media just simply gets it wrong, or at the very least incomplete. Here’s the real story about this “secret.”

In colder climates, many evergreen species of trees stop conducting photosynthesis in late summer as they prepare for a dormancy stage. This cessation of photosynthesis leaves less chlorophyll in the needles. Chlorophyll is the chemical which makes needles (and leaves of deciduous trees) green. With the absence of chlorophyll, the needles are subject to fading and “bleaching out” by the ultraviolet light from the sun, particularly the pines. This is a natural process but can result in Christmas Trees which appear “yellow” from the faded color. Nobody wants a tree like that.

Growers can’t stop a tree from going dormant each winter nor can they force a tree to keep producing chlorophyll. However, they can do something which can protect the tree from ultraviolet light. To do this, a water-based colorant is applied to the trees by a spraying machine in late summer, usually August or September. The colorant blocks ultraviolet light from penetrating the needles and causing them to fade in color. Since the colorant is water-based, it is washed off by rain during the Autumn months, but by November the sun is far enough to the southern horizon as to not cause fading or “bleaching.” By the time a Christmas Tree is harvested around Thanksgiving and put up, the colorant is gone.

Trees that are already yellow-ish are not “spray painted green” as described in the article. That kind of incomplete explanation was just silly. It would be analogous to applying sunscreen to a person at 5 p.m. when they have been out in the sun all day long already.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

More Pets ...

What a wild and wacky day. The Web site was down for a while. Suffice it to say, that makes for a difficult time at the association because we rely on the Web site to disseminate so much information, including this blog.

We received more “best tree for a cat” questions’s kind of weird how a topic will be asked about in bunches. We received 5 or 6 questions about cats and Christmas Trees in a 24 hour period. In addition to what I replied yesterday, a comprehensive web site that has tips for pet safety during the holidays is

We’re having great media coverage of the Trees for Troops program. FedEx picked up trees in New York state, Minnesota and Oregon today. Tomorrow they are picking up trees in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and California.

Found an interesting news story today broadcast on an Atlanta TV station. There was a scientist from a university in North Carolina urging people to heed the warning labels on fake trees that they contain lead. Of course, here in St. Louis, we’re well aware of the health hazards of lead.

Yet another reason to use a natural farm-grown Christmas Tree instead of a fake, plastic one. We have collected other not-so-well-known tidbits about fake trees on the “Fake Tree” page.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Pets & Trees’s a good question, not uncommon. Kim writes:

What kind of tree should I get?? I have 2 cats, one adult female and one 7 month old male. I also have a 3 year old grandson in my home. I had been using an artificial tree for the last couple of years but would like to return to a real one this year as this will be the first real Christmas for my grandson.
Thank you, Kim

First of all, I’m glad you’ve decided to switch back to a Real Christmas Tree!

I’m not sure an absolute answer can be given for what kind of tree to get. I would say this: if you’re concern is about the tree being tipped over from active cats or inquisitive 3 year-old kids, the species doesn’t matter, the stand is very important. Make sure you use a very stable and heavy tree stand, and try a smaller tree - say 5-6 feet tall only. Those are lighter and less likely to tip over.

Some people have recommended using a Blue Spruce for the first time if you have cats. The rationale being, if a cat tries to climb inside the tree, the Blue Spruce has prickly, sharp needles...not fun to climb in. But that same trait can also make them harder to decorate, just use some work gloves or gardening gloves.

No matter what species you get, I think you’ll be happy when you realize the special memories you helped create with your grandson when you go out to pick out the very special tree for your family to enjoy. You simply can’t get those same kind of memories if you drag a box of a fake tree out of storage.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

To Flock or Not to Flock?

Here’s an interesting question we received recently. David asked:

In the fifties and early sixties I remember seeing tree lots that not only sold green evergreens. They also would dip some of the trees in paint. The entire tree. They had a large vat and pastel paint was either pink, white or light powder blue. Am I dreaming? What was this process called? Why did it stop? Is their any info available about such a process?

At first I was tempted to suggest he dreamed the whole thing or maybe was remembering a Simpsons episode or something. But I asked some growers and did a little internet research.

What he’s probably remembering is 'flocking'. You could have any color and the 'flock' was sprayed onto the tree; kind of a pasty, powdery colored product that had to dry before handling. They still do flocking today, but use different materials that are not made of paper pulp anymore and the predominant color is white to simulate snow. Flocking popularity is a very regional thing.
According to several sites, -- flocking became extremely popular in the 1950s and 1960s –– and came in white, pink or blue (just like he mentioned.) They even sold a home flocking device that could be attached to your vacuum cleaner. Wow, people actually turned their Christmas Tree pink with their vacuum cleaner? I wonder if a sequence like that was left on the cutting room floor of the movie A Christmas Story?

Saturday, November 26, 2005

First Blog Entry

The initial blog entry...and it was tough deciding which topics to discuss. There are many to choose from, especially on opening sales weekend. I probably should have started this sooner.

This will be the 8th year of managing public relations for the Christmas Tree industry, and it has been an interesting experience. Although some friends and associates refer to me now as “the christmas tree guy” there is still much I can learn about how Christmas Trees are grown, harvested, marketed and sold. Often, I am forced to learn something because of a question sent via email from a consumer. It is for this reason, that we urged the association leadership to authorize us to start an interactive blog on the web site.

My hope is that the blog will be a fun, entertaining and interesting feature which allows people to express feelings and ask questions.

This kind of question is very common the first weekend after Thanksgiving. John sent the following email: When is the best time to buy a real Christmas tree?

There is no exact answer we can provide to that question. There is no “best” time or “worst” time to get your tree. But, since Christmas Eve is 4 weeks from today, I would advise John or anyone else that you can get your tree any time you’d like now. Generally, any species in any location will be able to stay fresh and aromatic for 4 weeks. We’ve compiled a pretty comprehensive list of care tips on the site and urge everyone to read them and follow them.

Speaking of care tips, every year there are varied tips and suggestions on how to care for a cut Christmas Tree. Last year, a TV station in the Pacific Northwest aired a story on their newscast that said it was recommended that you add vodka to the tree’s water stand. Their source for this recommendation? architect who decided to share a drink with his tree one year!! Now there’s “expert” advice for you. We were in the office late that day disseminating a Consumer Alert countering that really bad advice. Alcohol, chemically speaking, is a desiccant that breaks down plant tissue...very bad for a tree.

Because there are so many conflicting bits and pieces of tips and suggestions available, we get a lot of questions on this topic and it will be most likely be a recurring topic on the blog. We’d like to hear from you some of the more bizarre tree care suggestions you’ve heard over the years. Post them as a response and we’ll use the more interesting ones and explain why they actually would or wouldn’t work.

As for news, this coming week kicks off the domestic deliveries in the Trees for Troops program. If you haven’t heard about this, go back to the home page and look for the link in the bottom right corner. Monday will be both the first pick up of trees and delivery of trees to the first military base, Ft. Lewis in Washington state. Monday is also the day the White House Christmas Tree is presented to the First Lady by the NCTA Grand Champions.

Speaking of the White House Christmas Tree, every year we get e-mails from people who want to donate a tree in their yard to be the White House Christmas Tree. It’s like a small piece of the news about the White House Christmas Tree got through, but not the details. The tree is presented each year by the NCTA Grand Champion. How do you become Grand Champion? Well, the first thing to do is farm Christmas Trees for a living. You have to be a professional grower and a member of NCTA. It’s not simply a matter of having an evergreen tree that needs cut down. The second thing is you have to win a tree contest in your state/regional association, which qualifies you to enter a tree in the national tree contest. “Entering a tree” is literally taking a tree you have grown on your farm to a meeting and having it judged against other trees grown by other farmers. It is an extremely difficult challenge, and winning the national contest really is the pinnacle of the Christmas Tree farming profession.

Monday will be a very interesting day here at the association office.