When it comes to Christmas trees, fir is the new pine in Western New York

concolor fir for Christmas in Hamburg NY
Concolor fir can be light blue. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

When you ask someone what kind of tree is used at Christmastime, they will immediately reply: pine.

But pine isn’t as popular for Christmas as it used to be. According to Steve Lockwood, owner of Lockwood’s Greenhouses, Fraser fir is the top seller.

Lockwood’s Greenhouses grow their own Christmas trees, which they cut and sell in the garden center at 4484 Clark Street, Hamburg. They grow only firs now.

Pine, as well as spruce, used to be popular because they were trees people could find in the woods, Lockwood said, but both pine and spruce have drawbacks.

Pine trees typically don’t have as nice a shape as other evergreens used as Christmas trees. In addition, their color can turn yellowish just when you want to harvest them, so they are often sprayed with a blue-green dye. However, they do hold their needles well.

Spruce trees have a nice shape, but drop their needles easily.

Then there are fir trees, which have everything you want in a Christmas tree. They have a nice shape and hang tenaciously on to their needles. You can expect a fir to hold its needles four to five weeks in the house.

Lockwood told the story of a customer who had bought a wreath made of fir boughs from Lockwood’s. After Christmas, the customer stuck the wreath in the garage and forgot about it. When the family discovered the wreath the next winter, they were amazed that it was still in such good shape. The wreath was brown, as you would expect, but the needles were still tight on the branches. So if you’re looking for a tree that won’t drop needles all over the living room carpet, you want a fir.

Which fir tree should you choose for Christmas?

Any fir tree will perform well as a Christmas tree, so you can choose whatever variety appeals to you. Look at needle length, color and even fragrance to decide which you prefer.

fraser fir in Hamburg NY
The needles of Fraser fir appear two-toned. The top of the needle is very dark green and the bottom is bluish with a silvery cast. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Some people steer away from short-needled trees, using the outdated rule of thumb that short-needled trees drop their needles fastest. They’re thinking of spruce trees, which do have short needles and do drop their needles, Lockwood said. But now that we also have Fraser firs on the market, we can’t use that rule of thumb anymore. Fraser firs have short needles but retain their needles well.

Color is also a matter of taste with firs. You can find firs ranging from dark green to silvery blue, and some firs are even two-toned, with the bottom of the needle showing a different color from the top.

While each fir has its own particular fragrance, the one that stands out is the concolor fir.

“When you break the needles, it has a citrusy smell,” Lockwood said. “It smells like an orange peel.”

If your Christmas tree seems to lose its scent a few days after you decorate it, it might not be because it has dried out, he said; it could simply be because you’re not handling it anymore. Breaking or crushing the needles a bit may bring back the scent.

Douglas fir has medium length needles that are medium green. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
Douglas fir has medium length needles that are medium green. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

While Fraser firs are the number one seller, Lockwood is trying new varieties as well. One reason for trying new varieties is that there seems to be a disease that could affect the roots of the Fraser firs. At the first hint of disease, growers begin looking for other varieties that may be more resistant because it takes about 13 years to get a tree from seed to your living room.

“It’s not like a geranium plant where you can just pick a different variety” to grow the next year, Lockwood said.

With Christmas trees, Lockwood’s starts with three-year-old plants, then grows them outside for 10 years before they harvest them.

The other reason Lockwood is trying out other varieties is that he is always looking for plants to offer that are a little bit unusual. He is testing some different varieties of fir in the field now to see how they perform. If they do well, you could see them being offered for sale in coming years.

Traits of fir trees used for Christmas trees

Fraser fir: Short needles that are dark green on the top of the needle and a silvery blue on the bottom. Depending on how the branches bend, it can give a two-toned effect. Canaan and balsam firs are similar to Fraser firs with short needles that are medium green.

Douglas fir: Medium needles that are a medium green. Nordmann fir and Turkish fir are similar to a Douglas fir with medium length needles that are medium green.

Concolor fir: Long needles that can be light blue, though the color can range to green. It has a citrusy aroma.

Don’t forget about Lockwood’s workshops

Lockwood’s is holding a series of hands-on workshops to help you prepare for the holidays. You can register for the workshops online, by calling 649-4684, or by stopping into Lockwood’s, 4484 Clark Street, Hamburg.

  • Winterberry Wreath Workshop: 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 7. Sally Cunningham will show you how to make a fresh wreath and then take it up a notch, using winterberries, cones, bird and bow. The cost is $40.
  • Decorated Boxwood Tree Workshop: 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8. David Clark, horticulturist, will teach you how to make a classic 16-inch tabletop tree from fresh boxwood and then decorate it with your choice of natural or sparkly ornaments. The cost is $45.
  • Basket of Beauty: 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 10. Work with designer Mary Gurtler to create a welcoming arrangement of greens, twigs, cones and berries for your porch or entryway. Cost is $45.
  • Williamsburg Style Wreath Workshop: 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 11. Mary Trifunovic of Lockwood’s will assist you in creating a classic American wreath using fresh and faux fruit and natural material. The cost is $50.
  • British Style Kissing Ball Workshop: 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 14. Make this doorway or porch ornament using greens, cones, bows and baubles. The cost is $38.
  • Floral Vase Arrangement: 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15. Mary Trifunovic will show you how to create your own unique seasonal vase filled with greens, twigs, flowers and designer glitz. The cost is $45.
  • Christmas Centerpiece Workshop: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 18. Work with Mary Trifunovic of Lockwood’s to design an exquisite centerpiece–made to last–for your holiday table, using evergreen and seasonal plant material. The cost is $45.
Christmas trees growing in Hamburg NY
The fir trees growing at Lockwood’s Greenhouses in Hamburg are various sizes because they were planted in different years—Firs are grown for about 13 years before they are harvested.


2 Comments on “When it comes to Christmas trees, fir is the new pine in Western New York

  1. Working at a Christmas tree farm for my friend for the last four years, fir is the best seller. The main problem with spruce is that it is a very prickly plant, making decorating painful. I made wreaths and made very few blue spruce. The conifers generally grow a foot a year, making them a very sustainable tree. When cut, others replace them and fill in rather quickly. In reality, they are more sustainable than artificial as I have written about on my blog. One thing to note on a tree lasting five weeks, it really depends on care and placement in the home. That should be noted so people are not disappointed when there tree drops needles in a weeks. Keep the heat down and fireplaces off for a long lasting tree. Keep the bucket filled with water too.

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