Printed on: December 09, 2012

Traditional flocked Christmas trees fall by wayside

By Mike Mooney
mmooney@postregister.com

It's not quite a ghost of Christmas past, but it's close.

Tree flocking no longer is a Christmastime must -- a development almost unthinkable back in the 1950s and '60s. Back then, a Christmas tree just wasn't complete without clumps of artificial white snow clinging to every bough.

"Years ago, it used to be really popular, and not just white," Aaron McCracken said. "We had one customer who had to have a pink (Christmas) tree every year. There were other colors, too; black, even green."

McCracken's family owns Sunnyside Gardens nursery, one of the few -- if not last -- practitioners of Christmas tree flocking in and around Idaho Falls. They've been doing it for decades.

This time of year, McCracken spends time flocking fresh-cut Christmas trees, though not nearly as many as he once did.

"It sort of faded in popularity (and) a lot of people got out of it (the Christmas tree flocking business). We may be the only ones in the valley; well, I guess there could be somebody else doing it.

"Maybe we're the crazy ones (for) still doing this messy thing."

Those who flock trees wear coveralls, rubber boots, respirator masks and gloves. Still, after a busy day, it's not unusual to come home with artificially whitened hair and face.

"The look is pretty angelic," McCracken said.

The material used to flock trees, essentially, is a type of powdered glue that's lighter than baking flour in its consistency.

"We get the tree wet and set it on a turntable and use a blower to blow the powder onto the tree. We'll do whatever consistency you want," McCracken said.

Some people want the boughs of their trees laden with heavy amounts of artificial snow, thickly clumped at the end of the boughs; others prefer a light dusting.

Once the powder has coated the tree, more water is applied and the flock is allowed to set up overnight -- a period of 10 to 12 hours.

When the customer returns, the tree is bagged up for the trip home.

For do-it-yourselfers, tree flocking kits are available online. In fact, historians contend it was do-it-yourselfers who got the flock-craze rolling in the 1940s.

Once hardened, flock is very durable and very little rubs off in the bag or when the tree is set up and decorated.

"It really sticks (to the tree) quite well once it's dry," McCracken said.

Aside from the fresh-snow look, McCracken said tree flock also offers a couple of side benefits.

"It binds the needles so you don't have as much needle drop," he said, "and it has a flame retardant quality, too."

The process itself is not time consuming. McCracken can flock a tree from top to bottom in about 15 minutes. It takes about 5 pounds of powder to coat an average 7- to 8-foot-tall pine.

Although flock masks the natural fragrance of the tree, McCracken said that can be remedied by making deep cuts into the trunk.

And disposal is not a problem, either. A fresh-cut flocked tree can be turned into mulch after Christmas just like its bare-branched brethren.

Even though demand for flocked Christmas trees has waned over the decades, there's been a resurgence of interest lately.

"It seems to be coming back," McCracken said. "But it's not like it used to be."

Mike Mooney can be reached at 542-6764. Comment on this story on Post Talk at www.postregister.com/post talk/.

More powder on the way

Although Sunnyside Gardens ran out of tree flocking powder late last week, worry not. More of the material was ordered, and Aaron McCracken said the nursery will be flocking trees again Monday.

The charge for flocking a tree is $4.50 per foot. The nursery also will apply Opalina -- a lighter, glittery material -- to your fresh-cut tree for $1.50 per foot.

Sunnyside Gardens is located at 2366 E. Sunnyside Road in Idaho Falls. Call 522-4660 or visit the nursery's website at www.sunnysidegardens.net.