Tree farms note speedy rush in sales as folks decorate early to combat 'pandemic blues'

Diana Paproski at Castle Hill Farm/Paproski's Tree Farm said the farm opened earlier than usual this year and was

Diana Paproski at Castle Hill Farm/Paproski’s Tree Farm said the farm opened earlier than usual this year and was "mobbed" with people.

Castle Hill Farm/Paproski’s Tree Farm / Contributed photo

For many families, strolling a tree farm and cutting their own Christmas tree is a tradition. While there are changes this year (most places are not allowing pets or tailgating due to COVID-19 and masks are required even though you are outdoors except for a brief photo opp), traditions have become especially important. Several area tree farms have seen an early surge in visitors looking to decorate for Christmas early.

Diana Paproski at Castle Hill Farm/Paproski’s Tree Farm said they normally do not officially open until a week after Thanksgiving but this year, they opened fully on Black Friday. “Usually it’s a soft opening for us but it was mobbed,” she said. “We opened early because we wanted to space people out more. I think a lot of people have the pandemic blues and are very anxious to get ready for Christmas this year.”

Louis Bacchiocchi, manager of the Connecticut Audubon Society’s H. Smith Richardson Tree Farm in Westport, said not only did they do more business on the first few weekdays after they opened Nov. 28 but bigger trees were selling fast. “As soon as we opened, we have been busy. I have a feeling that a lot of people are figuring that they are going to be home for the holidays and not traveling so they don’t mind putting in the extra work to put up and decorate a bigger tree.”

Tom Harbinson, facilities and hospitality manager, Jones Family Farm and Winery, said the quietest time to visit the tree farm is on weekday mornings.

Tom Harbinson, facilities and hospitality manager, Jones Family Farm and Winery, said the quietest time to visit the tree farm is on weekday mornings.

Jones Family Farm and Winery / Contributed photo

He is nearly sold out of his bigger trees, those taller than 8 feet high. “Normally they would take me through the whole season and maybe on the last weekend I would sell the last of them,” he said, “I’m almost out of the whole number that I generally sell.”

Weekday visits are also becoming popular. With many still working at home and kids doing remote learning, many are choosing a weekday to get their tree instead of weekends that might be busier. At Maple Row Farm in Easton on Monday, there were nearly a dozen cars in the parking lot at 10 am. Given that the Edwards family has over 200 acres where it has grown Christmas trees here for six decades, there is plenty of space to spread out. This reporter and her family cut down a Frasier Fir here and only saw a few other families.

With adversity comes the opportunity to tweak one’s business. Tom Harbinson, facilities and hospitality manager, Jones Family Farm and Winery, said they switched from a cash or check-only system last Christmas season to an online reservation system this year with limited amounts of timed tickets sold. People reserve their times and pre-pay for their trees for a nearly contactless transaction.

Tom Harbinson, facilities and hospitality manager, Jones Family Farm and Winery, said the quietest time to visit the tree farm is on weekday mornings.

Tom Harbinson, facilities and hospitality manager, Jones Family Farm and Winery, said the quietest time to visit the tree farm is on weekday mornings.

Jones Family Farm / Contributed photo

“I would say people are yearning to reconnect with some traditions that bring back fond memories. They have been wanting to get outdoors and be able to reconnect with family so we have seen an earlier boost to the activity,” he said. Weekday visits have pickup up also.

Asked for his suggestions on the quietest times to visit, he said late afternoons on weekdays do get busier so mornings are the least crowded. Open seven days a week, the farm opens at 9 am weekdays and is open an hour earlier on weekends, starting at 8 am.

While most places offer a limited number of saws to use, if you have one bring it, otherwise you may find a wait as saws have to now be sanitized between uses. A genius hack is to bring a tarp. Instead of having to carry the tree to the baling location or drag it on the ground, roll it on the tarp, which you can then slide easily on the ground. At home, give the tree plenty of water to drink and the first few days, it will be especially thirsty. Also, keep it away from a heat source to avoid drying it out. Given this year’s drought that hit Connecticut, however, people may also notice their trees dropping more needles than usual even for being fresh-cut, through no fault of the grower.

For the person who may be cutting down their tree for the first time, choosing a tree comes down to what your decorating style is. Look for a tree with good color and vigor and avoid any with many brown needles in the center. If you have a lot of heavy ornaments, spruces have the edge over firs as their branches can hold more weight but the tradeoff is the needles are sharp. Firs are generally softer but some varieties like the Frasier fir are better equipped to hold some heavy ornaments. Balsam fir trees tend to smell the most fragrant.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and depending upon what your holiday decor may be, how you are going to decorate your space, that really is going to define what type of tree you may want to include,” Harbinson said. “In the end, it comes down to this. You enter the field and you happen to see a tree and you say ‘That’s the one!’ Love at first sight.”

Andrea Valluzzo is a freelance writer.