Christmas trees that come fresh off the farm Drought has cost many area growers, but the public isn't likely to feel a pinch for several seasons.

Posted: December 08, 2002

Jared Burnett is willing to share his secret on how to pick out a perfect Christmas tree on an eight-acre Chesterfield farm dotted with thousands of evergreens.

"I look for the biggest one, maybe 100 feet tall," said the 6-year-old, with a sly smile.

The Jackson Township boy concedes there's one problem with this strategy: "My mother might have to cut a hole in the roof so it will fit."

His mother, Veronica Burnett, has another plan. For the past five years, she and her son have tromped through the Spruce Goose Christmas Tree Farm the day after Thanksgiving.

"We find a tree we like, and we know it's fresh because it's cut down right then," she said. "Then we go home and put it up."

Freshness, selection and cost have led to the popularity of Christmas tree farms in recent years as evidenced by a crowd that gathered on the frosty Friday after Thanksgiving.

All the trees at Spruce Goose cost $38. Nancy Norris, of Yardley, Pa., noted that the 13-foot Douglas fir she picked out would have cost $195 in her area, just a 20-minute drive from Chesterfield.

Richard Haines, who with his wife, Eileen, has operated a Christmas Tree farm in Juliustown for 25 years, has noticed an increase in the number of tree farms. "But we're still busy because the demand is there," he said of the farm, which carries his name.

Haines said that the two-year drought has cost him and other tree farmers thousands of trees but that the public won't feel the effect for years.

"The last two years, many of the young trees we planted died because it's been so dry. In 10 to 15 years," he predicted, "there will be a shortage when the ones that survived are mature."

Peter Lucca, who owns the four-acre Lucca Tree Farm in Winslow Township, solved that problem decades ago by irrigating.

"When we first started our tree farm in 1953, we planted 3,000 young trees and lost most of them when there was a dry spell," he said. "That's why we decided to irrigate." As a result, he said, he lost only about 25 trees this year.

At the 20-acre Triple Oaks Nursery in Franklinville, owners Lorraine and Joe Kiefer decided not to replant Christmas trees when the drought hit and when the public began to clamor for Fraser firs, which don't grow in New Jersey. Irrigation is too costly, Lorraine Kiefer said, and Fraser firs need cooler climates, growing in the mountains of Virginia or Pennsylvania.

To make ends meet, they have turned their attention to making wreaths.

"We cut the boughs of the trees and make a thousand beautiful wreaths," she said. "It's a renewable resource, and we also sell greens."

The trees that remain on their farm are sold by appointment. Because most of them are 14 to 20 feet tall, the Kiefers cater to churches, car dealers, and anyone else who wants oversize trees to display.

"Whoever has a high ceiling might want one," Joe Kiefer said.

Back at the Spruce Goose in Chesterfield, owners Karen and John Benton said they also lost trees in the drought - maybe 30 percent. Irrigation would be expensive because they would have to dig a new well. They are trying a new approach - planting larger, more hardy seedlings with the hope that their survival rate will be higher.

They are also experimenting with a new variety of Christmas tree, the Canaan fir.

"It's similar to the popular Fraser fir, it has the same feel, and we can grow them here," Karen Benton said. "This is the first year they are ready for sale."

Contact Jan Hefler at 856-779-3224 or

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