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Natural Christmas Trees Stand Tall Amid Pandemic

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Kenny Westfall
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Holly Nursery

The ongoing pandemic and resulting restrictions have reportedly harmed restaurant and tourism industries, but a local horticulturalist said more families in western Kentucky purchased natural Christmas trees from his business this season.

Kenny Westfall, who has owned Holly Nursery in Calvert City for 35 years, said he’s seen an increase in Fraser fir tree sales. He said although it’s still early in the holiday season, he’s already sold more natural trees than usual. He noted families having more time to stay home due to the pandemic may have been a factor.

“It could help [sales], because people in general have been going back to more cut trees and more natural instead of artificial. So we’ve seen a big swing back the other direction,” he said. “I’ve got more to flock this year already than I did all of last year.”

Flocking, which is creating artificial “snow” out of a pulpwood and boron mix, helps to preserve tree needles and protects against fire. The aesthetic provides a visual appeal for natural trees. Westfall said the tree’s fragrant “woody” scent and natural beauty were also perks. He said artificial trees lacked those features, and the nostalgia of Christmas tradition.

“They’re [natural trees] not perfect. I think that’s some of it; they get a tree that has flaws and they have to decorate them, fill them in. It’s not something that’s stamped out that you can pull out of a box every year,” Westfall said.

Westfall said there is a tree shortage again this season, largely due to farmers planting fewer trees. He said he had to preorder the trees in June to get them delivered by Thanksgiving.

“It’s because so many of the growers didn’t plant enough trees 10 years ago because they had a low in sales, and now they have more sales, but they don’t have enough trees to catch up,” he said. “When you run out of trees, it’s over. You can’t get more because it’s too late in the season.”

Westfall said the trees typically used for Christmas decoration, Fraser fir trees, are found in the mountains of North Carolina where the elevation is cold enough to allow them to grow naturally. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, Fraser fir trees grow at elevations above 4,500 feet and it takes 7-10 years to grow a six- to seven-foot tree.

Westfall also attributed the tree shortage to a decline in farm workers. He said most tree farm hands are migrant workers who work for a season and then return home. He attributed the shortage to the physical challenges of the job.

“Many of them are getting older and no one wants to take the business up because it’s a hard business, labor-intensive, a lot of cost, and it’s just hard to get anybody to work anymore.”

After the Christmas season, Westfall said the trees could either be replanted as live trees, or taken to “Christmas Tree Drop Off Sites” to help local wildlife.

Land Between the Lakes traditionally offers visitors the opportunity to cut down their own cedar trees for the Christmas season, free of charge. LBL Public Affairs Specialist Carlin Lewis said the program will continue this year.

“The only change is that permits will only be available online,” she said. “2020 has been a trying year for a lot of people and coming out and venturing into your public lands to find a perfect cedar Christmas tree can bring a spark of much needed holiday cheer, and also could be the beginning of a new tradition for many families.”

Lewis said the experience of finding the perfect tree not only helps families, but the environment as well.

“Cutting small-diameter trees like these cedar trees in these designated areas can help other trees grow larger, and the new growth that comes up in these open areas can provide forage for wildlife like deer and turkey,” Lewis said. “There’s some lakes in the area that will take discarded Christmas trees for a structure for fish.”

Lewis said she believes people gravitated more toward natural trees this season because of the opportunity to be with loved ones.

“It’s more about the journey and not only the destination of finding the tree, cutting it, but the whole experience of being out with your loved ones and hiking through your public lands to find that perfect tree.”

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