Celebrants find Christmas trees at stores, farms

Bill Bradshaw / freditor@postregister.com
"We sell them already flocked," says Kim Getsinger of the snow-covered evergreens at his Wolverine Tree Farm. Though the trees he sells are primarily for landscaping, some customers come for Christmas trees.

Alice Elison / for Farm & Ranch
Five-year-old Claira Wheeler explores the Christmas trees at Kesler’s Garden Center in Blackfoot.

BLACKFOOT – Whether it’s from a tree farm or a store, holiday celebrants are busy acquiring their Christmas trees for the coming holiday.

At Kesler’s Market’s Christmas tree concession in Blackfoot, it’s business as usual, despite reported tree shortages blamed largely on a cutback on plantings during the 2008 recession.

“We have plenty of trees,” said Kelly Kesler, a co-owner of the market. “We have the same number of trees as last year. And our prices haven’t increased in the past five years.

Kesler’s Market is a hometown Associated Foods grocery store with a state-of-the-art garden center full of evergreens.”

The holiday market is a long-standing tradition at the Blackfoot store.

“We’ve been selling Christmas trees a long time,” he said. “I know we were selling them back in the 1960s.”

The supermarket was opened in 1934 by Kesler’s grandparents, F.C. Kesler and his wife, Nettie. It is currently owned by Kelly and his brother, Bob.

“About half the people that come in and buy a tree say they already own an artificial tree,” Kesler said. “But they want a live tree this year and you can’t blame them.”

Most of Kesler’s trees come from the Sandpoint area in Bonner County. A few wild-cut ones come in from Montana, and this year their regular Oregon vendor wasn’t able to supply trees.

“We just ordered more trees from Sandpoint, so it wasn’t really a problem,” he said. “We usually get the Nordman and Noble firs from Oregon because Sandpoint doesn’t have the fancy trees.”

Oregon growers aren’t dealing with the smaller vendors this year, he said. But you can still get Oregon trees from the larger chains like Lowe’s. In 2008, Oregon growers had too much inventory because the economy wasn’t very good so they stopped planting as many trees.

“It takes seven to eight years to grow a tree so the big Oregon growers are running short right now since the demand is up again,” Kesler said. “They are back to planting more trees now and will be calling us and begging us to take their trees in another year.”

Sandpoint Ranch Tree Farm, located about 18 miles north of Sandpoint in northern Idaho, is Kesler’s main supplier. The family-owned and operated business started in 1978 and grows 40 varieties of conifers and deciduous trees on 400 acres.

Kesler’s offers Fraser fir, grand fir, lodgepole pine, Alpine fir, Douglas fir and Nordman fir. Prices run from about $20 to $89. The store is located at 925 W. Bridge St. in Blackfoot.

Christmas tree farms where you can cut your own tree are rare in areas like eastern Idaho that depend on pumping groundwater for irrigation, said Kim Getsinger, owner of Wolverine Tree Farm in Ammon, who raises trees primarily for landscaping purposes. Getsinger raises both evergreen and deciduous trees. Among them are Colorado and Serbian spruce, oak and linden trees. He said next year, he plans to plant maples, as well.

But at anywhere between $100 and $1,000 a month, the cost of pumping groundwater to raise trees makes it cost prohibitive.

“Unless you go all out, it’s a diminishing return,” Getsinger said.

It’s even been difficult to get the government to accept tree farming as agriculture.

“We take the same risks (as food farmers),” he said. “Only recently have they decided trees are a bona fide crop.”

But most of southern Idaho just isn’t the place to grow evergreens popular at Christmastime.

“They don’t like our soil,” Getsinger said. “The pH is too high.”

But some southern Idaho farmers do make a go of it, although marginally.

“It takes a long time to grow Christmas trees,” he said. “We can’t compete with Oregon and Washington that get enough rain to raise commercial Christmas trees. Around here, if you raised Christmas trees you would be selling at or below cost to stay competitive.”

He said it takes nine to 12 years to grow a tree in this area, compared to five to six years in Oregon and Washington. Firs are popular because they shear well, prune well and are fast growing, he said. Problems with raising trees are drought, blight and disease. Besides the cost of pumping water, another major cost is fertilizer.

“Growing Christmas trees is as risky as any other kind of farming and around here it just doesn’t pay enough,” Getsinger said.